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Justice Kennedy to Retire from SCOTUS

Associate Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Justice Anthony Kennedy announced Wednesday that he will retire from the Supreme Court, providing President Trump the opportunity to ensure a conservative majority on the Court.

Kennedy’s retirement, effective July 31, will set up a high-stakes political battle over his replacement’s nomination.

Kennedy, 81, established himself as as a sought after swing vote for the court’s liberal justices, casting the deciding vote on issues ranging from abortion and affirmative action to capital punishment and gay rights. He announced his retirement in a letter to President Trump.

“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 contest over his successor’s nomination will likely be made more tense by the sentiment, widely held among liberals, that Trump’s first nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, occupies a seat stolen from Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. Senate Republicans managed to obstruct Garland’s nomination to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia, keeping the seat vacant for some 14 months.

Holding a 51-seat majority in the Senate, Republicans ostensibly have the votes to withstand Democratic opposition due to a rule change, advanced last April by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which lowered the confirmation threshold for Supreme Court justices from 60 votes to a simple majority.

Regardless, the nomination is sure to drive millions in ad spending from liberal special interests that will likely target moderate Republicans, such as Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, to oppose the nomination of a conservative stalwart.

Following Kennedy’s announcement, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the upper chamber will vote on a replacement this fall.

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