Kennedy, 81, played the integral role of casting a swing vote in many cases, including the 5-4 decision that established nationwide marriage equality in 2015, and wrote many of the majority opinions in those cases. Despite his reputation as a conservative, Kennedy had liberal views on issues like abortion and gay rights. He often swayed the court in a liberal direction, such as in 2016 when his vote helped repeal a Texas abortion law that many called the strictest in the nation. At the time, then-acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal said, "It is very much Justice Kennedy's court."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will move quickly in voting on whoever Trump nominates. "We will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy's successor this fall," McConnell said, according to The New York Times. The majority leader was instrumental in blocking the Senate from voting on Merrick Garland, nominated by President Barack Obama in 2016 to fill the vacancy created by Antonin Scalia's death. This maintained the vacancy until Trump became president, allowing him to nominate Neil Gorsuch, and the Senate confirmed Gorsuch to the high court.
When the nomination to replace Scalia was at the forefront of discussion, Trump released a list of 11 people he would consider as replacements, saying, "A lot of people are very worried that if I got in I would put in the wrong judges. I am going to put in the right judges. I am going to put in conservative judges." Much of the same can be expected now.
"We have a very excellent list of great, talented, highly educated, highly intelligent, hopefully tremendous people," Trump said in remarks released by the White House. "I think you see the kind of quality that we're looking at when we look at that list."
Conservatives were anticipating Kennedy's retirement as early as March, when Republican Sen. Dean Heller told Politico that a new justice "will get our base a little motivated."
More recently, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, "If you're thinking about quitting this year, do it yesterday." Although Grassley did not refer to Kennedy by name, it was clear who he had in mind.
In the wake of Kennedy's retirement, Grassley's anticipation has turned to gratification. Grassley told reporters that Kennedy "helped chart the course of American jurisprudence, and made his mark as a staunch defender of First Amendment rights, especially the freedom of speech and religious liberty. I look forward to having the nominee before us in the Senate Judiciary Committee for his or her hearing in the weeks ahead."
More Republicans have expressed their excitement at the possibility of shifting the balance of the Supreme Court in their favor, now that the vital swing vote is gone.
U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise tweeted the following:
\u201cI look forward to @POTUS @realDonaldTrump nominating a strong constitutional conservative to the seat. https://t.co/ZzDZ7jpRXt\u201d
Rob Wasinger, a former Trump campaign official and transition team member, was more direct:
Not every Republican responded to Kennedy's retirement with a MAGA hashtag, but it was clear that many eagerly anticipated the nomination of his successor. This was Bill O'Reilly's take:
\u201cVery big news for the United States. Anthony Kennedy was a very rational and honest voice on the court \u2013 not an ideological guy. Get ready for a bloody brawl over the next Supreme Court justice. https://t.co/gqH4Zf053i\u201d
While Democrats mourn, with the knowledge that Kennedy was instrumental in many civil rights cases, Republicans couldn't be happier. When Politico reporter David Siders tweeted: "How it sounded inside a DNC committee meeting the moment Justice Kennedy's retirement was announced" with an attached audio containing mournful sighs, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer's response was to quote the tweet with this statement:
\u201cI could listen to this over and over #SCOTUS #JUSTICEKENNEDY https://t.co/cYdtOn9Vib\u201d
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