Trump may replace Kennedy with young, conservative jurist

US President Donald Trump has started the search for a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy (pictured) who announced his retirement at 81 on Wednesday.

Trump will be choosing the new judge from a list of 25 conservative candidates by 31 July when Kennedy retires. He has already hinted that the nominee will be young enough to serve more than four decades.

Kennedy played a pivotal role in the top court. Without him, it will be split over important laws, disputes and appeals between four liberal justices appointed by Democrats and four conservatives picked by Republicans. For years, Kennedy’s swing vote led to landmark rulings in cases linked to gay rights and abortion rights some of which the Republicans may now be planning to reverse.

Naturally, Trump will be looking for someone who can give the judiciary a rightward tilt for decades with a 5-4 majority. This week, a divided court finally upheld his travel ban on people from some Muslim-majority countries.

Kennedy’s retirement announcement was not expected but the timing makes one think that he wanted himself to be replaced by a Republican. If he had waited and Democrats taken control of the Senate in November, it would have been difficult for Trump to confirm the replacement for Kennedy.

Trump may be picking the new judge before the top court reconvenes after summer vacation. Even if Democrats stage a showdown over Kennedy’s replacement and the Senate witnesses as 50-50 tie, Vice-President Mike Pence could break it and confirm Trump’s nominee.