Justice Anthony Kennedy announced Wednesday that he is retiring, giving President Trump a critical opportunity to move the Supreme Court more solidly to the right in what promises to be an epic confirmation fight.
The 81-year-old senior associate justice informed the White House in a letter of his intention to step down from the high court after 30 years, effective July 31. Rumors of another vacancy have reverberated across Washington in recent months, and it comes a year after Kennedy's former law clerk Justice Neil Gorsuch, took over the seat occupied by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Arguably the most powerful member of the Supreme Court, Kennedy's moderate-conservative views often left him the "swing" -- or deciding -- vote in hot-button cases ranging from abortion to gay rights to political campaign spending.
A Supreme Court vacancy will likely become a key issue in a midterm congressional election year, when control of the Senate is at stake.
That body will consider Trump's latest high court nominee, requiring only a simple majority for confirmation. GOP leaders changed the rules when Gorsuch was being considered, to get rid of the 60-vote procedural filibuster threshold.
But Democrats are expected to try and transform the court opening into a broader political referendum on Trump's leadership, and the future of social issues like immigration, gun rights, and race.
Republicans, for their part, hope Kennedy's replacement helps them in the November elections.