by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Fearing a conservative jurist would replace Judge Stephen Reinhardt, the liberal lion of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a prominent progressive legal scholar quietly urged him to retire in the spring of 2014.
U.C. Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky approached Reinhardt just months before the 2014 midterm elections and suggested he retire, The New York Times reported Saturday.
Reinhardt refused the overtures. Months later, Republicans assumed control of the Senate, effectively ending former President Barack Obama’s judicial confirmations. President Donald Trump’s election forced the judge into an awkward actuarial battle, an increasingly common phenomenon as judicial appointments become highly politicized. He died on March 29 at 87.
His strident liberalism was of Warren Court vintage — powerful, but dissonant in the era of Chief Justice John Roberts. Whatever his influence on the Ninth Circuit and the dozens of budding scholars, lawyers and activists who competed for his coveted clerkships, his ideas had little purchase at the Supreme Court. The justices overturned 24 of the 25 Reinhardt rulings they reviewed. Those reversals included his opinion striking down the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and his opinion striking down a state law prohibiting doctors from prescribing terminal medications.
Reinhardt is but the latest prominent appeals judge Trump will replace.