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Democrats Weigh Gravity Of Justice Kennedy's Retirement

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump said last night he is hoping to choose a Supreme Court justice who might serve 40, maybe 45 years. And that speaks to the gravity of the decision facing Trump as he weighs his second Supreme Court nomination. This comes after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement yesterday. Kennedy was a swing vote on so many cases, especially involving social issues. So there is a chance for Trump to reshape the court for years to come. Senator Amy Klobuchar is in our studio. She's a Democrat from Minnesota.

Thanks for joining us, Senator.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, thanks, David. It's great to be on.

GREENE: Well, this seemed to surprise everyone yesterday. Did you see this coming? Or where were you when you learned this news?

KLOBUCHAR: (Laughter) Well, there were a lot of rumors about it, of course, for the last year. And in fact, when Justice Gorsuch was nominated people thought, well, maybe that will make Justice Kennedy feel very comfortable in retiring. And so it happened.

GREENE: Explain to me the thinking that Gorsuch coming onto the court might give Kennedy the feeling that he could retire.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, he had been his clerk. And people said that he liked him, and so I think that's what they thought. And you know, unfortunately, when I look at the Gorsuch nomination here, everything we thought - when you looked at his record before he got to the court and then when you looked at what he's done since, he has been the ideologue that we thought he would be. And that's what, of course, concerns me about who the next nominee should be and why I believe we should stick with the McConnell Rule from 2016. And any decision on this and any hearing should be after the election.

GREENE: Well, let's talk about that so-called McConnell Rule - although Republicans like to call it the Biden rule, saying that it came originally from Joe Biden when he was in the Senate. But Senate Majority Mitch McConnell blocked Merrick Garland, President Obama's choice to replace Antonin Scalia, saying it was inappropriate in an election year and that the voices of Americans should be heard. Republicans are making a distinction right now, saying that was a presidential election; this is a midterm election. Why do you not see it differently?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, I come armed with quotes here this morning. You have Leader McConnell sometimes said presidential year but often said things like, "give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy." Orrin Hatch - "the Senate has every right to say, look, we are in a political year. We are not going to politicize this. We'll wait." Roger Wicker - "elections have consequences. And the election this November will have consequences as to the type of Senate we have."

GREENE: At some point, don't you have to draw the line and say that it's OK, at some point, to allow Supreme Court nominations to go through?

KLOBUCHAR: Of course. But then you have something else. You have the fact that Justice Kennedy has been a voice of independence. Now, he has done many conservative things, like Citizens United and other cases. But then at other moments, you've seen this incredible spark of independence. You know? He wrote the marriage equality opinion. He was a deciding vote in upholding the central ruling of Roe v. Wade in 1992.

GREENE: Do you really think the court might return to some of these issues? Because there is someone in the conservative camp saying that Democrats are fearmongering...

KLOBUCHAR: Fearmongering? Look at the cases that are out there right now - in Texas, where the administration is arguing that we should get rid of the protection that says that insurance companies can't kick you off insurance just for having a pre-existing condition - that's something like half of America would be involved; the recent Ohio voting case where they basically kicked people off of the voting rolls because they hadn't voted in recent elections. All of these things that matter in people's lives have been affected by court decisions - major if/who you can marry, if you can go to school. These things matter.

GREENE: Just a few seconds left - what leverage do Democrats have? You don't have a majority in the Senate. I mean, it sounds like...

KLOBUCHAR: Yeah.

GREENE: ...This process is just going to go forward. You don't have the votes, do you?

KLOBUCHAR: OK. Well, we have, first of all, public persuasion. And look at this. We got Obamacare in place and kept it in place when we got three courageous Republicans to join us - Senator McCain, Senator Murkowski, Senator Collins. Depending on who the nominee is, they will weigh in. You've also got the process that we have in front of us and our ability to ask questions. And nominees have been withdrawn in the past.

GREENE: Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota.

Always a pleasure talking to you, Senator. Thank you very much.

KLOBUCHAR: It was great to be on, David. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.