Justice Anthony Kennedy has announced he will leave his post, giving Trump the opportunity to replace a moderate judge with a conservative.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on June 28, 2018

Kennedy will leave the court at the end of July. Of the eight judges who will remain after the 81-year-old Kennedy steps down, there will be four Republican appointees and four judges who the Democrats appointed.

The makeup of the court had proved crucial as recently as this week when it ruled 5-4 to uphold Trump’s travel ban. The Republican party has recently considered appointing judges sympathetic to its ideology as a central pillar of its political strategy.

Trump paid tribute to the Republican-appointed Kennedy during a media appearance at the White House. “He is a man that I’ve respected for a long time. He’s been a great justice of the Supreme Court…he has displayed tremendous vision and heart and he will be missed.”

Later, Trump returned to the topic of the looming vacancy during a rally in Fargo, North Dakota. He said Kennedy must have “felt confident in me” to chose to retire now and select a judge that will continue his legacy. Trump also added that he was after a long-term replacement.

“We have to pick one that’s going to be there for 40 years, 45 years. We need intellect. We need so many things,” Trump said.

Yet Kennedy was never a completely predictable ally for the Republican party. At times, he sided with the progressive quartet of justices, including voting to legalise gay marriage and to uphold abortion rights. Legal commentator Quinta Jurecic said Kennedy had “intentionally fashioned himself as the swing vote” during his time on the bench.

Trump will now be looking for a judge to reliably vote with the conservative bloc and has said that he and his colleagues would begin the search for a suitable replacement immediately.

Last year, he released a list of potential Supreme Court judges that included 25 names.

It is anticipated the change in the makeup of the bench will have implications for cases which hinge on abortion, gay and lesbian rights and affirmative action. After being appointed by Ronald Reagan, Kennedy had become an unlikely but effective proponent for gay and lesbian rights. A strong commitment to personal liberty ran through his judgements.

Barring some unforeseen division within the Republican party, Trump will be able to gather the votes necessary to confirm Kennedy’s replacement before the mid-term congressional elections in November 2018.

Who will be Trump’s Supreme Court nominee?

Some of the more likely candidates include:

  • Thomas Hardiman, judge on the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals. He was reportedly the runner-up the last time Trump had a vacancy and nominated Neil Gorsuch.
  • Mike Lee, Utah senator. Formerly a key player in the Tea Party movement, Lee has never served as a judge but is well-connected within the Republican hierarchy.
  • Amy Coney Barrett, former professor of law at Notre Dame. Barrett worked as a clerk for Antonin Scalia, Trump’s previous nomination to the Supreme Court. Last year, Trump nominated for her federal judgeship.
  • Amul Thapar, judge on the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals. The 49-year-old is close with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell