The sad delusion of Anthony Kennedy conspiracy theories

Mark Joseph Stern writes:

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the Supreme Court shocked liberals so deeply that some haven’t quite accepted that his decision to step down was on the up and up. A New York Times report on the Trump administration’s quest to nudge Kennedy off the bench has spawned a series of conspiracy theories that revolve around one detail in the piece: The justice’s son, Justin Kennedy, worked at Deutsche Bank when it loaned Trump more than $1 billion. Deutsche Bank loaned money to Trump when no other banks would, and it plays a still-mysterious role in Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

What if anything is going on here? ThinkProgress calls the connection between Trump and the Kennedy family a “suspicious business relationship,” while the New Republic labels it “shady.” Richard Painter, George W. Bush’s former chief ethics council—who is now a candidate in Minnesota’s Democratic Senate primary—tweeted that the “circumstances of Anthony Kennedy’s resignation must be investigated by the Senate Judiciary Committee before any replacement is considered,” adding, “The Constitution does not give Trump the power to use underhanded means to induce Supreme Court resignations.”

How might Trump have “induced” the justice’s retirement? The logic here is fuzzy because there’s no clear quid pro quo: Kennedy’s son loaned Trump money, and in return, Trump … did nothing in particular for Kennedy but got the justice to give up his Supreme Court seat? While that doesn’t make much sense, Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, hinted at this theory of the case in a viral tweet. Snopes spells out two other hypotheses: First, that Trump “somehow leveraged his financial connections with Kennedy’s son Justin to convince or coerce the jurist to retire”; second, that Trump ousted the justice so he could “nominate a friendly successor who would vote favorably on any issues involving Justin Kennedy that might come before the court” if the younger Kennedy’s name were to come up in the Mueller probe. The implication of both theories is that the administration somehow extorted Kennedy to quit the court. This is hogwash.

As the New Yorker’s Adam Davidson has noted, there is reason for reporters to look into Justin Kennedy’s relationship with Trump, particularly in light of Deutsche Bank’s Russian money laundering scandal. Kennedy, though, left the bank in 2009, well before it enabled the Russian money laundering scheme—and for that matter, before Trump had a serious political career. The ostensible Russia connection, then, amounts to nothing. [Continue reading…]

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