Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced on Wednesday that he will retire, unleashing an epic political battle to replace him that could allow President Donald Trump to shift the court to the right for a generation to come.
The departure of the 81-year-old Kennedy from his post after more than three decades has the potential to radically reshape the court on issues such as abortion and affirmative action, where Kennedy has served as a swing vote.
“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 said in a statement. He said that he wanted to spend more time with his family and that his decision would be effective July 31.
His exit is expected to create a furious fight in the Senate over his replacement, and it could thrust the often overlooked issue of judicial selection to the forefront in close Senate races in this year's midterms. The retirement comes as a blow to Democrats, and cries of “Ohh” and “Oh, my God” punctuated a call between members of the Democratic National Committee’s rules and bylaws panel as the news broke Wednesday.
Trump told reporters Wednesday that Kennedy, whom he said has "been a great justice of the Supreme Court," had come to the White House earlier in the day to inform him of his retirement plans. Trump said he asked Kennedy for recommendations as to his replacement but did not say how the retiring justice responded.
The president pledged that his pick for Kennedy's successor would come from lists of potential nominees he already circulated, starting during the 2016 election, when he campaigned on a promise to fill the seat formerly held by Justice Antonin Scalia with another conservative judge. The replacement process will "begin immediately," Trump said, adding, "hopefully, we will pick someone who is just as outstanding."
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