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Trump gets chance to reshape Supreme Court as Kennedy retires

Anthony Kennedy, 81, is stepping down after more than 30 years.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has announced his retirement, giving President Donald Trump a chance to cement conservative control of the nation’s highest court.

The 81-year-old said in a statement he was stepping down after more than 30 years.

A Republican appointee, he has held the key vote on such high-profile issues as abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, guns, campaign finance and voting rights.

Justice Kennedy informed his colleagues of his plans, then went to the White House to meet Mr Trump, where the president said they talked for half an hour about a potential successor and other topics. The retirement will take effect at the end of July.

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President Donald Trump will pick a new Supreme Court justice (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Mr Trump praised Justice Kennedy as a man of “tremendous vision” and said his search for a new justice would begin immediately.

Without Justice Kennedy, the court will be split between four liberal justices who were appointed by Democratic presidents and four conservatives who were named by Republicans.

Mr 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 cannot prevent a vote.

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.

Mr 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.

If Donald Trump, who has promised to overturn Roe v. Wade, picks someone who is anti-choice, the future of Roe v. Wade is very much in question, David Cole

Mr Trump already has a list of 25 candidates — 24 judges and Utah senator Mike Lee — and has said he would choose a nominee from that list.

Abortion is likely to be one of the flashpoints in the nomination fight.

Justice Kennedy has mainly supported abortion rights in his time on the court, and Mr 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.

“If Donald Trump, who has promised to overturn Roe v. Wade, picks someone who is anti-choice, the future of Roe v. Wade is very much in question,” said David Cole, national legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Republicans currently hold a bare 51-49 majority in the Senate, although that includes the ailing Senator John McCain of Arizona.

If Democrats stand united in opposition to Mr Trump’s choice, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky can lose no more than one vote. If the Senate divides 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence could break a tie to confirm the nominee.

Prominent on the list of possible successors are Judges Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania and William Pryor of Alabama, who was seriously considered for the seat eventually filled by Justice Gorsuch, and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who serves on the federal appeals court in Washington.

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