Washington – The Supreme Court returns to the bench one last time Wednesday with two cases left to decide and then a summer break from the news – unless, that is, a justice chooses that moment to announce his retirement.

It’s happened before, but not since 1987 and there are no outward signs that anyone is planning to leave.

Before a justice even would have the chance to stun the courtroom, however, the court has to resolve two cases, including an important challenge to the financial health of labor unions that represent government workers.

The justices are considering whether to invalidate state laws that require public employees to pay fees to the unions that represent them in collective bargaining, even if the workers don’t want to be union members.

Conservative groups have tried for years to get the court to rule that the laws violate employees’ free-speech rights by compelling them to pay money to the unions. The justices came close to deciding the issue in 2016, but Justice Antonin Scalia’s death produced a 4-4 tie.

Now, with Justice Neil Gorsuch in Scalia’s old seat, anti-union groups are trying again.

The other case involves Florida’s claim that Georgia uses too much water from the rivers that flow into the Florida Panhandle and the Gulf of Mexico.

If there is a retirement, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who will soon turn 82, would be the most likely candidate. The other justices around his age are part of the court’s liberal wing and are not expected to leave voluntarily while President Donald Trump holds office.

By contrast, Kennedy is a Republican appointee of President Ronald Reagan and votes often with the court’s other conservatives, though he joins the liberals on gay rights and other social issues. Like all his colleagues, Kennedy has hired law clerks for next year.

Justice Clarence Thomas just turned 70 and visited the White House for what the court described as a social call. Still it sparked some speculation.


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