Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday, giving President Donald Trump the 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 has informed his colleagues and Trump of his plans, and that his retirement will take effect at the end of July.
Without him, the court will be split between four liberal justices who were appointed by Democratic presidents and four conservatives who were named by Republicans. Trump's nominee is likely to give the conservatives a solid majority and will face a Senate process in which Republicans hold the slimmest majority, but Democrats can't delay confirmation.
Trump's first high court nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed in April 2017. If past practice is any indication, Trump will name a nominee within weeks, setting in motion a process that could allow confirmation of a new justice by early August. Trump already has a list of 25 candidates — 24 judges and Utah Sen. Mike Lee — from which the White House has previously said he would choose a nominee.
Prominent on that list are Judges Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania and William Pryor of Alabama, seriously considered for the seat eventually filled by Justice Neil Gorsuch, and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who serves on the federal appeals court in Washington, DC.
Kavanaugh is a longtime Washington insider, having served as a law clerk to Kennedy and then as a key member of independent counsel Kenneth Starr's team that produced the report that served as the basis for President Bill Clinton's impeachment. In October, Kavanaugh dissented when his court ruled that an undocumented teen in federal custody should be able to obtain an abortion immediately.
Abortion is likely to be one of the flash points in the nomination fight. Kennedy has mainly supported abortion rights in his time on the court, and Trump has made clear he would try to choose justices who want to overturn the landmark abortion rights case of Roe v. Wade. Such a dramatic step may not be immediately likely, but a more conservative court might be more willing to sustain abortion restrictions.
Interest groups across the political spectrum are expected to mobilize to support and fight the nomination because it is so likely to push the court to the right.
- Republicans brush aside Dems' effort to delay Kavanaugh vote
- Accuser's story of attack roils plan for Brett Kavanaugh vote
- The Latest: Trump says 'little delay' possible on Kavanaugh
- Chaos marks start of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing (UPDATED)
- Day 2 of hearings finds Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the hot seat
- Brett Kavanaugh avoids major missteps, closing 2 days of testimony
- Showdown between Brett Kavanaugh, accuser scheduled for next week
- Women supporting Brett Kavanaugh find themselves in storm's center
- GOP warns time running out for Brett Kavanaugh's accuser to talk
- Brett Kavanaugh's accuser says she would testify under right terms
- Hearing not yet set: Dems, GOP arguing on witnesses (UPDATED)
- Brett Kavanaugh's accuser wants FBI to investigate before hearing
- The Latest: Grassley makes new interview offer, says FBI investigation not necessary
- Court vacancy fuels abortion politics in midterm elections
- Trump says he 'can't go wrong' with his top court contenders
- Trump nominates Brett Kavanaugh to Supreme Court (UPDATED)
- U.S. Sen. Susan Collins would oppose court nominee with an 'activist agenda'
- Donald Trump interviews 4 for Supreme Court, 2-3 more to go
- Trump interviews with possible Supreme Court nominees begin
- Analysis: Dems meet Supreme Court pick with mixed message
- GOP senators gush over Kavanaugh after private meetings
- Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's support for surveilling Americans raises concern
- What to watch for as senators consider Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination
- LGBT advocates fear Brett Kavanaugh's potential votes on gay-rights issues
- Senators spar on access to Kavanaugh's staff secretary work
- With scant record, Supreme Court nominee elusive on abortion
- Retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy often the man in the middle