Since the early 1990s, Justice Clarence Thomas has been the poster child for far-right social conservatism on the U.S. Supreme Court — and this week in the Washington Post, journalist Robert Costa is reporting that President Donald Trump's reelection campaign might have found a new way to rally his base: a possible High Court vacancy should the 72-year-old Thomas announce his retirement.
According to Costa, "There are some people inside of the White House that are around this president who are hoping, at this point — knowing that it may not happen, but they are hoping that there might be a Supreme Court vacancy. Clarence Thomas, the justice since the early '90s, could decide to retire."
Nothing is definite. If his health holds up, it's entirely possible that Thomas could still be on the High Court ten or 15 years from now. Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now 87, is 15 years older than Thomas.
But even if Thomas doesn't decide to retire, Trump's campaign could use that possibility to excite the far-right white evangelicals and culture warriors in the president's base.
Costa reports, "As this White House really looks to galvanize that base, they are quietly preparing for the possibility of a Supreme Court vacancy." If Thomas does decide to retire, Trump would no doubt nominate someone who is just as socially conservative — and the names that have been floated, according to Costa, include Judge Amul Thapar and Judge Amy Coney Barrett. In 2018, after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, Barrett was mentioned as a possible nominee, but Trump ended up nominating Brett Kavanaugh — who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate after a contentious debate.
Republicans, according to Costa, are "looking at the possibility of an opening" and "think that kind of opportunity for them politically, that kind of news flash, would be a total culture war in the middle of a summer when they're trying to stoke that Republican base. But in terms of the suburbs, at this point, it's all a bet on reopening the economy and a lot of hope more than any kind of strategic outreach."