Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement on Wednesday, giving President Donald Trump another opportunity to fill yet another Supreme Court seat just a year and a half into his presidency — and all but ensuring a reshaping of American law for decades to come.
“It has been the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those years on the Supreme Court,” Kennedy, 81, said in a statement.
He will officially step down on July 31.
The appointment will likely make a significant impact on some of the country’s most important and polarizing issues including abortion rights, voter ID laws, and Trump’s harsh immigration policies. Kennedy, a conservative judge who was appointed by Ronald Reagan, has long acted as the swing vote on the bench, siding with the more liberal justices perhaps most famously in his 2015 decision that legalized gay marriage in the United States.
Trump reportedly plans to push a nominee through before the midterm elections and Sen. Ted Cruz told reporters on Wednesday that he also wants to see someone chosen before November.
"The Senate stands ready to fulfill its constitutional role by offering advice and consent on President’s nominee to fill this vacancy,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who often cites the appointment of Gorsuch as one of his proudest moments of his career, said Wednesday afternoon on the floor of the Senate.
McConnell successfully organized the entire Republican caucus to block Barack Obama from appointing a replacement of conservative Antonin Scalia in 2016 which enabled Trump to appoint Gorsuch in the first months of his presidency. Liberals frequently accuse McConnell of “stealing” the seat while Republicans like to cite that former Vice President Joe Biden previously said that the Senate should not confirm Supreme Court justices during presidential election years.
Kennedy’s retirement now offers Trump the biggest opportunity to remake the ideological balance of the court since 25 years ago, when George H.W. Bush replaced the liberal Thurgood Marshall with the conservative Clarence Thomas.
Cover image: Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a formal group photograph in the East Conference Room of the Supreme Court, seated left to right, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, and standing left to right, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr., Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images