But they had a connection, one Mr. Trump was quick to note in the moments after his first address to Congress in February 2017. As he made his way out of the chamber, Mr. Trump paused to chat with the justice.
“Say hello to your boy,” Mr. Trump said. “Special guy.”
Mr. Trump was apparently referring to Justice Kennedy’s son, Justin. The younger Mr. Kennedy spent more than a decade at Deutsche Bank, eventually rising to become the bank’s global head of real estate capital markets, and he worked closely with Mr. Trump when he was a real estate developer, according to two people with knowledge of his role.
During Mr. Kennedy’s tenure, Deutsche Bank became Mr. Trump’s most important lender, dispensing well over $1 billion in loans to him for the renovation and construction of skyscrapers in New York and Chicago at a time other mainstream banks were wary of doing business with him because of his troubled business history.
I mean, having the son of the Supreme Court justice who abetted the policy goals of a cross between George Wallace and Calvin Coolidge both in his decisions from the bench and a timely retirement being someone who worked closely to help Trump with his various financial scams? Seems a little obvious.
While that’s the attention-grabber, I think this might be even more important:
When Mr. Trump took office last year, he already had a Supreme Court vacancy to fill, the one created by the 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia. But Mr. Trump dearly wanted a second vacancy, one that could transform the court for a generation or more. So he used the first opening to help create the second one. He picked Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who had served as a law clerk to Justice Kennedy, to fill Justice Scalia’s seat.
And when Justice Gorsuch took the judicial oath in April 2017 at a Rose Garden ceremony, Justice Kennedy administered it — after Mr. Trump first praised the older justice as “a great man of outstanding accomplishment.”
“Throughout his nearly 30 years on the Supreme Court,” Mr. Trump said, “Justice Kennedy has been praised by all for his dedicated and dignified service.”
There is reason to think, then, that Mr. Trump’s praise of Justice Kennedy was strategic.
Then, after Justice Gorsuch’s nomination was announced, a White House official singled out two candidates for the next Supreme Court 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.
The two judges had something in common: They had both clerked for Justice Kennedy.
In the meantime, as the White House turned to stocking the lower courts, it did not overlook Justice Kennedy’s clerks. Mr. Trump nominated three of them to federal appeals courts: Judges Stephanos Bibas and Michael Scudder, both of whom have been confirmed, and Eric Murphy, the Ohio solicitor general, whom Mr. Trump nominated to the Sixth Circuit this month.
Trump has shrewd instincts as a manipulator. This flattery may well have affected Kennedy, who got a lot of abuse from conservatives in 2016 after an atypically liberal term. And in particular, it’s hard to imagine that the nomination of Gorsuch wasn’t a factor in Kennedy’s very demonstrable lurch to the right in his last term.
Anyway, this looks bad for the Court. And, no matter how you cut it, terrible for Kennedy. He was personally connected to Trump, he mostly shares his repugnant policy goals, he spent his last year on the Court as a rubber stamp for his administration, and then finally with no reports of serious health problems handed a white nationalist, authoritarian president a lifetime appointment to the Court. He has done an immense amount of damage to his historical reputation.