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“If anything, it would make them more anxious to resolve contentious questions rather than kick them down the road,” he said.
Carvin, who represents a set of challengers to a key voting-rights law, said conservatives might be more willing now to take cases protesting the requirement that states with a history of discrimination obtain federal approval for electoral changes.
The five conservative justices have signaled their resistance to the provision and other race-based policies.
Carvin said they might want to address the matter now “rather than in the future when you’re not sure what the court would be like.”
Supreme Court departures, like many of its cases, defy prediction. It is not unusual for justices to stay in their jobs into their 80s or beyond.
The last retirement was in 2010 when Justice John Paul Stevens, then aged 90, stepped down. For decades, speculation about his retirement had been the stuff of election-year news stories.
Before him, Justice David Souter left at age 69 in 2009. Chief Justice William Rehnquist died in office, at age 80, in 2005. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired in 2006 at 75, leaving earlier than expected to care for her husband who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
No matter who exits and who enters, the court can be expected to stay tightly divided on many social-policy dilemmas. A majority is likely to remain supportive of the rights of gay men and lesbians, although it is impossible to predict how the justices would rule on same-sex marriage.