Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday, giving President Donald Trump a golden chance to cement conservative control of the high court.
The 81-year-old Kennedy said in a statement he is stepping down after more than 30 years on the court. A Republican appointee, he has held the key vote on such high-profile issues as abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, guns, campaign finance and voting rights.
Kennedy said he had informed his colleagues and Trump of his plans, and that his retirement will take effect at the end of July.
Trump praised Kennedy as a man of “tremendous vision” and said his search for a new justice would begin “immediately.”https://web.archive.org/web/20180627185424/https://apnews.com/43de809e3c144a1f9048055386394263
Nominated by President Ronald Reagan and sworn in in 1988, Kennedy became a swing vote on the nine-member court. He often sided with his liberal colleagues, including in the landmark ruling that recognized same-sex marriage in 2015.
"For a member of the legal profession, it is the highest of honors to serve on this Court," he wrote. "Please permit me by this letter to express my profound gratitude for having had the privilege to seek in each case how best to know, interpret and defend the Constitution and the laws that must always conform to its mandates and promises.
The president's first nominee to the court, conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, has already had an enormous effect on U.S. policy in narrowly-decided rulings this week related to Trump's ban on travel from certain countries, abortion and labor unions. The president said his next choice would come from a previously released list of 25 candidates. Possible candidates when Trump chose a replacement for the late arch conservative Antonin Scalia included Appeals Judges Thomas Hardiman and William Pryor, among others.
Replacing Kennedy with a conservative could have a massive long-term effect on the highest U.S. court. His decision to leave will have huge implications for the midterm elections, as Democrats and Republicans battle for control of the Senate. The chamber confirms Supreme Court justices.
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