Civil Rights Leaders Discuss Implications of Justice Kennedy Retirement

Courts News 06.27,18

WASHINGTON –The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and other organizations today hosted a telephone press briefing on the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Civil rights leaders outlined what’s at stake in the wake of his retirement, the need for an independent and fair-minded justice, and the importance of opposing any nominee before the midterm elections

A recording of the press briefing can be found here.

“Given the perilous times we’re in, the stakes are especially high for filling this vacancy. Since taking office, President Trump has led a relentless crusade against our nation’s progress to recognize fundamental civil and human rights,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference. “All senators need to put country over party and use all of the tools available to them to stop President Trump’s plan to take over the Supreme Court for the next 40 years. No one should be considered for the Supreme Court until the people have a say in the November midterm elections.”

“This is a monumental moment for our country. The very integrity of our justice system and the rule of law will be affected by the confirmation of a new justice to the Supreme Court,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “We have no confidence that President Trump will present a nominee with a record of commitment to racial equality and justice. And so every American must invest themselves in ensuring that Congress does its job–which, in this case, means not considering any nominee this year, and voting down any nominee who does not represent the ideals of our democracy or is otherwise unqualified to serve on the highest court in our nation.”

“With Kennedy’s retirement, the stakes have never been higher for reproductive rights. Justice Kennedy has been a swing vote on the Court, at times voting to uphold our most critical rights and protections. And as we’ve seen this week in several harmful decisions, every vote counts. President Trump has promised to only appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade and dismantle the Affordable Care Act. And he is fulfilling his promise,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “He is packing the lower courts with religious conservatives committed to allowing religious beliefs to override individual rights. If Trump’s nominee is confirmed, it will shift the balance of the courts against the constitutional right to abortion. The Senate should not consider any nominee until a new Senate is seated in January. It’s time to fight hard for our rights and the future of our democracy.”

“The Supreme Court is no place for extremists, and the Senate must play its constitutional role in preventing the confirmation of another extremist justice; unfortunately, the current Senate has a regrettable track record of mindlessly confirming Trumpian extremists, with demonstrated bias in many circumstances, to courts of appeals and district courts,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF. “The voters should decide in November 2018 whether they want a Senate like this one to review the nomination, or a Senate that better appreciates its obligation to prevent extremists from sitting on the federal bench.”

“Today is a wake up call for equality voters across the nation. With the retirement of Justice Kennedy, our most fundamental rights are on the line. One thing is clear — the American people deserve a say in this most crucial of moments for our democracy. HRC is calling on Senate Leadership to allow the American people to decide at the ballot box whether they want a nominee who will undermine their fundamental rights and freedoms — or one who will protect them. Donald Trump has been clear — he wants a Supreme Court nominee who will undermine the progress we’ve made on affordable health care, LGBTQ equality, reproductive rights and more. The American people don’t — and they should have an opportunity to say so at the ballot box in November,” said JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

“We are going to fight hard to demand that the Senate defend our rights,” said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way. “And that doesn’t just extend to Democrats. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski can’t call themselves pro-choice and confirm a judge who will overturn Roe. Rob Portman can’t pretend he cares about marriage equality and support a judge who will strip rights away from gay people. Dean Heller can’t play the moderate and vote in favor of a nominee who will radically reshape our democracy.”

“After decades of leadership on the court for LGBT rights, in the final hour of his 30-year tenure on the bench, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy heralded in a Muslim ban and left open the question of whether the far right has a license to discriminate against the LGBT community and other marginalized groups,” said Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal. “We are shocked and saddened that a justice who was once the defender of dignity for LGBT people and our families on the court would choose this moment to hang up his robe. For the last few years, Lambda Legal has been leading the fight to protect the courts from Trump’s onslaught of anti-LGBT judges. Given everything happening in this country, and the fact that this President has worked to push through his own hateful agenda, the American people have a right to be heard before the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.”

“The stakes for the Court now could not be higher: the future of healthcare, the environment, women’s rights, workers’ rights, LGBTQ rights, racial equity and more is literally on the line as President Trump ponders Justice Kennedy’s successor,” said Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice (AFJ). “We anticipate that the mobilization of people from all walks of life who are concerned about the next Supreme Court nomination will be the biggest of its kind in our history, and we urge the White House to respect the desire of the American people for a justice who will uphold hard-won rights and freedoms, not turn back the clock.”

About The Leadership Conference

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit

About the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF)

Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multidisciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.

About NWLC

The National Women’s Law Center is a non-profit organization that has been working since 1972 to advance and protect women’s equality and opportunity.  The Center focuses on major policy areas of importance to women and their families including economic security, education, employment and health, with special attention given to the concerns of low-income women.  For more information on the Center, visit:


Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization.  Often described as the “law firm of the Latino community,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

 About HRC
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

About People For the American Way
People For the American Way is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.

About Lambda Legal

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work. 

About Alliance for Justice

Alliance for Justice believes that all Americans have the right to secure justice in the courts and to have their voices heard when government makes decisions that affect their lives. We are a national association of 130 organizations, representing a broad array of groups committed to progressive values and the creation of an equitable, just, and free society.