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Trump wants Supreme Court nominee who will serve 40-45 years

Updated: 2018-06-28 08:23
US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy arrives for US President Donald Trump's address to a Joint Session of Congress in Washington, US, February 28, 2017. [Photo/Agencies]

FARGO, N.D. - US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he wants to pick a US Supreme Court nominee who will serve on the court for 40 to 45 years.

"We have to pick one that's there for 40 years, 45 years," he told a rally in Fargo, North Dakota, hours after Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement.

Anthony Kennedy said on Wednesday he plans to retire after three decades as a pivotal vote on the highest US judicial body, giving US President Donald Trump an opportunity to make the court more firmly conservative.

Kennedy, who turns 82 in July and is the second-oldest justice on the nine-member court, has become one of the most consequential American jurists since joining the court in 1988 as an appointee of Republican President Ronald Reagan. A traditional conservative, he advanced gay rights, buttressed abortion rights and erased political spending limits.

His retirement, which takes effect on July 31, gives Trump a second Supreme Court appointment in his 17 months in office after the Republican president last year selected Neil Gorsuch, who has already become one of the most conservative justices.

Kennedy, mild-mannered and professorial, sometimes joined the liberal justices on key rulings, earning a reputation as the court's "swing" vote who heartened conservatives and liberals alike, depending on the issue.

His retirement sets the stage for a major showdown in the Republican-led US Senate over the confirmation of Trump's eventual pick for the lifetime appointment to replace Kennedy and the future direction of the Supreme Court, all coming before crucial November elections in which Democrats are seeking to seize control of Congress from Trump's Republicans.

Illustrating the high stakes, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer called it "the most important Supreme Court vacancy for this country in at least a generation."

"It has been the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those years on the Supreme Court," Kennedy said in a statement issued by the court that said his retirement was motivated by a desire to spend more time with his family. He previously served as a federal appeals court judge in California.

Trump said he would begin the selection process with a list of 25 conservative candidates.

Trump's list was assembled with the input of conservative legal activists who also touted Gorsuch for the previous court vacancy. A person familiar with the White House nomination process said there were five front-runners on Trump's list.

They are Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the US Court of Appeals in Washington; Thomas Hardiman of the Philadelphia-based 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals; Raymond Kethledge of the Cincinnati-based 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals; Amul Thapar, who Trump named to the 6th Circuit; and Amy Coney Barrett, who Trump named to the Chicago-based 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

"He's been a great justice of the Supreme Court," Trump said of Kennedy, speaking to reporters in the White House Oval Office. "He's a man ... who has displayed tremendous vision, and tremendous heart, and he will be missed."

While Kennedy's replacement will not change the numerical ideological balance on the court, Trump could appoint a justice more staunchly conservative than Kennedy and less likely to occasionally side with the court's liberal wing. The move could also mean that conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, as the most centrist of the court's current conservatives, would become the decisive vote in certain cases.

Trump already has left an imprint on the court, restoring its 5-4 conservative majority with the appointment of Gorsuch after the Republicans in the Senate in 2016 refused to consider former Democratic President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland.

While Kennedy sided with conservative colleagues on many issues and authored the landmark 2010 ruling that allowed unlimited corporate spending in political campaigns, his tenure also included support for key liberal causes.


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