US Supreme Court loses key swing vote as justice Anthony Kennedy retires

US Supreme Court loses key swing vote as justice Anthony Kennedy retires, by Brent Kendall.

Anthony Kennedy, one of the Supreme Court’s most consequential modern-day justices and author of landmark rulings on gay rights, the death penalty and campaign finance, has announced his retirement, handing President Donald Trump a historic opportunity to reshape the court. …

Justice Kennedy’s decision to step down is a seismic event in the nation’s capital, one certain to create an impassioned political battle over the Supreme Court.

The 81-year-old justice, a maverick conservative, spent much of his tenure situated at the ideological centre of a court divided deeply into liberal and conservative camps on hot-button issues. His judicial leanings often left him in play for both sides, making him a pivotal figure in many of the court’s most important rulings.

Justice Kennedy’s departure gives Mr Trump the chance to shift the court in a considerably more conservative direction — potentially for decades. More immediately, it sets the stage for what is likely to be the toughest fight over a court seat in recent memory, with congressional elections looming and liberals still angry over Republicans’ refusal to consider former President Barack Obama’s nominee for the most recent vacancy.

AP:

Without Kennedy, the court will be split between four liberal justices who were appointed by Democratic presidents and four conservatives who were named by Republicans. Trump’s nominee, likely to give the conservatives a solid majority, will face a Senate confirmation process in which Republicans hold the slimmest majority but Democrats can’t prevent a vote. …

US left in meltdown

Abortion is likely to be one of the flash points in the nomination fight. Kennedy has mainly supported abortion rights in his time on the court, and Trump has made clear he would try to choose justices who want to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Such a dramatic ruling may not be immediately likely, but a more conservative court might be more willing to sustain abortion restrictions. …

The other two older justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, and Stephen Breyer, 79, are Democratic appointees who would not appear to be going anywhere during a Trump administration if they can help it.

Trump’s first high court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed in April 2017. If past practice is any indication, the president will name a nominee within weeks, setting in motion a process that could allow confirmation by the time the court reconvenes in early October.

hat-tip Stephen Neil