October 24, 2019 at 4:22 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Buttigieg wants another Justice Kennedy on Supreme Court
Pete Buttigieg said Justice Kennedy would be a model for his picks to the Supreme Court. (Los Angeles Blade file photo)

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said his vision for Supreme Court appointments upon election as president would be in the mold of moderates like former U.S. Anthony Kennedy — although his campaign denies that characterization of his remarks.

Buttigieg expressed a predilection for Kennedy — as well as former U.S. Associate Justice David Souter — in an interview published Thursday in the women’s magazine Cosmopolitan.

“The idea here is you get more justices who think for themselves,” Buttigieg said. “Justices like Justice Kennedy or Justice Souter.”

In the same breadth, Buttigieg touted his plan for making consent from seated justices on the Supreme Court a condition for adding a new justice to the bench.

One idea Buttigieg articulated was having 15 members on the Supreme Court as opposed to the current nine, but requiring 10 justices already on the bench to agree unanimously to seat the other five.

“There are many legal scholars who think this could be done without a constitutional amendment under current law,” Buttigieg added.

Kennedy has been a favorite justice in the gay community because he wrote each of the four major decisions from the Supreme Court on gay rights : Romer v. Evans, Lawrence v. Texas, Windsor v. United States and Obergefell v. Hodges. 

In the last two cases, which were 5-4 decisions, Kennedy was the deciding vote striking down the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and the state bans on same-sex marriage.

But the Reagan-appointed justice has also invoked the ire of progressives for other decisions. 

Kennedy joined with the majority to uphold President Trump’s travel ban on Muslim countries; allowed Hobby Lobby to deny for its employees insurance policies covering birth control; and in Janus v. AFSCME overturned precedent that allowed public sector unions to charge fees to non-members.

Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice, hinted other justices may be a more appropriate model for Supreme Court picks as opposed to Kennedy.

“There is a critical need to reassert balance on the court by appointing justices who can replace the lost voices of Thurgood Marshall and William Brennanl,” Aron said. “Both understood that the role of the court is to provide redress for all Americans, not just the wealthy and powerful.”

UPDATE: Sean Savett, a Buttigieg campaign spokesperson, denied the interpretation of the candidate’s remarks in the Cosmopolitan interview as a vision for appointing justices like Kennedy to the Supreme Court.

“This tweet ignores his comments in the interview, in which he said his appointments would ‘definitely be people who share my values,’ and how depoliticizing SCOTUS is personal to him because his marriage exists by a single vote on the court,” Buttigieg campaign spokesperson tweeted. (As the Blade stated, Kennedy was a vote in favor of same-sex marriage.)

“It ignores how Pete said he would appoint justices who share our liberal values to existing seats,” Savett continued. “JUST TODAY, he put out a plan that says he’d appoint justices who agree with him on choice.”

“AND it ignores how Pete was talking about a scenario under his plan to depoliticize the court which has been widely praised by progressives by creating additional seats to be filled with ppl all 9 Justices would approve of,” Savett tweeted. “By definition, those wouldn’t be conservatives.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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