The Supreme Court said in a statement that Kennedy will step down on July 31 after which the 81-year-old justice hopes to spend more time with family.
Kennedy also sent a letter to President Trump expressing his thanks for the opportunity to serve the country as he has.
“For a member of the legal profession, it is the highest of honors to serve on this Court,” he wrote. “Please permit me by this letter to express my profound gratitude for having had the privilege to seek in each case how best to know, interpret and defend the Constitution and the laws that must always conform to its mandates and promises.”
The White House thanked Kennedy for his “years of distinguised service” in a statement Wednesday.
“Justice Kennedy has been a tireless voice for individual rights and the Founders’ enduring vision of limited government,” the administration said. “His words have left an indelible mark not only on this generation, but on the fabric of American history.”
President Trump’s pick of Justice Neil Gorsuch to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat has kept the court in balance and led to a few noteworthy close decisions. Just in the last few days the court has ruled, by a 5-4 margin, that non-member employees at union shops cannot be required to pay dues, that a florist cannot be forced to make arrangements for a gay marriage, and that Trump’s travel ban is constitutional.
Kennedy is a centrist and often the swing-vote in controversial cases. Nominated by Reagan and taking his seat in 1988, his vote has gone to support rulings that have been loved and hated by those on both sides of the political spectrum. His vacancy will either move the court further towards strict constructionist views of the constitution or land another centrist in his seat.
Trump will ultimately get to nominate Kennedy’s replacement. If the Senate, which has been slow to get any nominees through, pushes to fill the seat before November, the seat will likely go to another conservative. However, if Democrats, with the help of anti-Trumpers like Sen. Jeff Flake, hold the nomination hostage until the midterm elections are over and a new Senate is seated, the president could be forced to pick a more moderate nominee. (RELATED: Flake promises to continue blocking Trump’s judicial nominees)
President Trump said Wednesday that he will choose Kennedy’s replacement from a previously released list of 25 potential Supreme Court nominees.
“It will be somebody from that list,” Trump told reporters. “They will come from that list of 25 people.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that he expects the Senate to vote on Kennedy’s replacement “this fall” without specifying if he means before or after the midterm elections.
“The Senate stands ready to fulfill its constitutional role by offering advice and consent on President Trump’s nominee to fill this vacancy,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “We will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall.”
Fall officially ends on December 21, 2018.
Democrats could accidentally energize GOP voters by holding up the nomination which would turn the midterm elections into a fight over a Supreme Court seat that will shape decisions for decades.