United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy announced his retirement in a letter to President Trump June 27, 2018. The president’s nomination to replace the retiring Associate Justice has the capacity to tip the balance of power towards the conservative/small government side. Expect the battle over the nomination to be most intense.
Justice Kennedy is a key swing vote on the Court. He alone often controls how the otherwise relatively evenly divided body rules on controversial issues that break along ideological lines. This term has seen him side more with the conservative bloc, but unlike other Justices whose votes are seen as predictable, Kennedy has been a wildcard. Nominated by President Reagan in 1988, Kennedy has, for instance, ruled that gay marriage is a constitutional right, that flag burning is protected by the first amendment, that the federal government can prohibit the use of medical marijuana, and that groups have free speech rights.
President Trump tweeted a video response to reporters after Kennedy’s announcement, lauding the retiring Justice and announcing an immediate search for someone “as outstanding” as Kennedy for his replacement.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 27, 2018
Supreme Court Justices are nominated by the president and approved or rejected by the Senate. Trump and Senate Republicans will almost certainly move to advance any nomination ahead of the November elections. The Republicans currently enjoy a bare majority in the Senate, and over a third of its seats are up for grabs this fall. Justice Gorsuch, Trump’s first and only Supreme Court Justice nomination was confirmed last year by a vote of 54-45.