Justice Kennedy announces retirement from Supreme Court
Justice Anthony Kennedy, a crucial swing vote on the Supreme Court, announced Wednesday he’s retiring at the end of July, giving President Donald Trump another chance to fundamentally reshape the highest court in the land.
His departure could have massive effects on U.S. policy, particularly on abortion rights and gay rights nationwide. His announcement immediately raised questions about how long the court would stand by its earlier abortion rulings, including Roe v. Wade.
In a statement, the Supreme Court said the 81-year-old Kennedy will step down effective July 31. The judge called it “the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those years in the Supreme Court.” Kennedy wants to spend more time with his family, even though they were content with him staying on the court.
He also sent a letter to Trump on Wednesday notifying the president of his decision. The court adjourned for the summer earlier in the day.
“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.”
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Trump called Kennedy a “great justice” who has displayed “tremendous vision and heart.” He said a search for his successor will start “immediately.”
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 archconservative 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.
A Supreme Court vacancy could serve to motivate voters, as a young justice would have a chance to serve for decades. Democratic control of the Senate may force Trump to make a more moderate choice for the seat.
Kennedy was the second-oldest member of the court. The oldest, Democrat Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is 85 and has been treated for pancreatic cancer. The next oldest after Kennedy is another liberal, Stephen Breyer, who is 79.
Senate Republicans will try to fill Kennedy’s seat before November. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday “we will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall.” McConnell blocked then-President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill Scalia’s seat, Judge Merrick Garland, clearing the way for Trump to nominate Gorsuch.
Kennedy’s retirement foreshadowed tension ahead between Senate Republicans and Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that Republicans “should follow the rule they set in 2016, not to consider a Supreme Court Justice in an election year.” McConnell has made a distinction between presidential and midterm election years.