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When Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens retires, Justice Anthony Kennedy will inherit the responsibility of deciding who writes the opinion for court opinions that come down on the liberal side.
Though it is a rule only in practice and not law, the senior justice on the majority side decides who writes the opinion for that respective case, according to the Associated Press.
Kennedy often acts as the swing vote in a court where many cases are decided by a 5-4 vote. With Stevens retiring, Kennedy will be the most senior, left-leaning justice in cases pitting conservative justices against liberal ones. The change could be more significant than Elena Kagan's probable appointment, as she would likely not change the ratio of conservative to liberal justices.
Conservatives fear Kennedy could choose to side with the liberal portion of the court for more decisions in order to dictate who writes case opinions. Others suggest Kennedy could choose to write many liberal decisions as less progressive than more consistently liberal justices.
Kennedy may come into the spotlight as many high-profile cases related to gay rights reach the Supreme Court in the near future. Experts predict appeals of Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, a federal case that found part of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional last week. Appeals are also likely for Perry v. Schwarzenegger,which contests the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, and Log Cabin Republicans v. The United States of America, which takes the government to task over "don't ask, don't tell."