The Trump administration quietly ensured Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s retirement, The New York Times reports. The administration nudged the former Justice out of office using multiple tactics, including Trump’s questionable financial relationship with Kennedy’s son.
The silent campaign to push Kennedy out of the Supreme Court has taken three forms: flattery, political nomination tactics and personal relationships. While Trump’s administration was busy handling all of the political tactics, Trump attacked using the most effective strategy: becoming family friends with Kennedys. Trump’s efforts worked, and the two families are now close. After his first speech to Congress in 2017, Trump reportedly shook Kennedy’s hand and said, “Say hello to your boy — special guy.” This one statement was enough to cause concern, but then Kennedy responded, “Your kids have been very nice to him.” Trump replied by saying, “They love him, and they love him in New York. He’s a great guy.”
Trump to Justice Kennedy: "That's very nice coming from you. And say hello to your boy, special guy."
Kennedy: "Your kids have been very nice to him."
Trump: "They love him, and they love him in New York. He's a great guy." pic.twitter.com/78MNDe3M7v— Scott Stedman (@ScottMStedman) June 29, 2018
Politico reports that Justin Kennedy knows Donald Trump Jr. from real estate circles. Also, Kennedy's other son Gregory went to law school with Trump's Silicone Valley advisor Peter Thiel, and Gregory's firm Disruptive Technology Advisers has worked with Thiel's company Palantir Technologies. Further adding to the infinite pit is Gregory's former job as a senior financial advisor at NASA during the first few months of Trump's term. Both of the Kennedy boys attended the White House St. Patrick's Day celebration in 2017. Ivanka Trump and her daughter were even invited to the Supreme Court as Justice Kennedy's guests. While there, they sat in seats reserved for “special guests.”
Arabella & me at the Supreme Court today. I'm grateful for the opportunity to teach her about the judicial system in our country firsthand. pic.twitter.com/1YXHyZ9ADZ— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) February 22, 2017
However, the most important part of Trump and Justin Kennedy’s relationship is a financial one. Kennedy’s son Justin Kennedy has worked for Deutsche Bank for more than a decade. He rose to the position of global head of real estate capital markets. The Times notes that he may be responsible for saving Trump’s business when he was a real estate developer during the recession. He became one of Trump’s “most important lenders” and handed Trump over $1 billion in loans for him to renovate and build skyscrapers in Chicago and New York. During this time, Deutsche Bank was about the only bank who was eagerly doing business with Trump, and that was all thanks to Justin Kennedy.
The other half of the silent campaign to push Kennedy out of the Supreme Court was well organized by the Trump administration. Trump publicly praised him while condemning other SCOTUS members, and stroked his ego constantly. When the newest SCOTUS Justice Neil M. Gorsuch took the judicial oath in April 2017, Trump complimented Kennedy at the event, saying, “throughout his nearly 30 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy has been praised by all for his dedicated and dignified service.”
However, Kennedy has not been praised by the Republican party, and Trump’s supporters because he voted to uphold abortion, limited the death penalty and expanded gay rights. But none of that mattered in the moment—all that mattered to Trump was sweet-talking his way to an open SCOTUS seat. In fact, Trump only nominated Gorsuch because he was Kennedy’s former law clerk—and now we get into the really political part of this entire scheme.
After nominating Gorrsuch, the administration announced two candidates that would be perfect for the next SCOTUS vacancy. Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Judge Raymond M. Kethledge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati. Both of those men had also clerked for Kennedy. Trump went on to nominate three of Kennedy’s clerks to federal appeals courts. Judges Stephanos Bibas and Michael Scudder have been confirmed and Eric Murphy was nominated in June.
Trump’s plan ultimately worked, as Kennedy will vacate his Supreme Court chair at the end of July. However, Trump still owes his new family friend Justin Kennedy up to $175 million and special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed information concerning the loans from Deutsche Bank.