Justice Kennedy to retire, Trump gets chance to reshape top court

Washington: President Donald Trump on Wednesday secured a historic chance to shift the US Supreme Court decisively to the right as Justice Anthony Kennedy, the tie-breaking vote between the bench’s liberal and conservative judges, announced he is to retire.
Kennedy’s departure at the end of July will give Trump the opportunity to appoint his second justice to the nine-seat bench, which exerts a deep and far-reaching influence on American life.
“It has been the greatest honour and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those on the Supreme Court,” Kennedy was quoted as saying in announcing his decision.
Nominated by president Ronald Reagan, the 81-year-old Kennedy took his oath of office in 1988. He said he was stepping aside to spend more time with his family.
Paying tribute to Kennedy as “a great justice of the Supreme Court,” Trump told reporters the replacement process will “begin immediately.”
“Hopefully we will pick someone who is just as outstanding,” he told reporters in the Oval Office.
He said Kennedy’s successor —who like all Supreme Court justices will be appointed for life — would be selected from among a list of 25 possible candidates, 20 identified during his presidential campaign, and five added since.“We have a very excellent list of great, talented, highly intelligent, hopefully tremendous people,” he said.
At a rally in North Dakota later on Wednesday, Trump described Kennedy as a “great man” who trusted him to pick his successor.
“I’m very honoured that he chose to do it during my term in office, because he felt confident in me to make the right choice and carry on his great legacy, that’s why he did it,” Trump said of Kennedy’s decision to retire.
Kennedy’s departure sets the stage for a brutal battle over his succession, a blueprint for which was established by Republican lawmakers in 2016 when they denied then-president Barack Obama the opportunity to fill the seat left vacant following the death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia.
Now, Democrats argue that Trump’s pick should not be put to a vote until after new legislators are elected in midterm polls this fall.
For years, Kennedy infuriated conservatives with decisions striking down prayer at public school graduations and upholding abortion rights.