In a week already full of U.S. Supreme Court decisions and news, SCOTUS Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he is retiring effective July 31.
Kennedy's retirement offers President Donald Trump a chance to reshape the Supreme Court drastically in his favor. Whoever Trump picks to replace Kennedy, it will likely be a conservative justice.
Kennedy's replacement will likely come from Trump's public list of 25 potential Supreme Court candidates.
But the battle to confirm any SCOTUS candidate is one which will pit Democrats and Republicans into one of their hardest fought battles yet.
After a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate will allow unlimited debate which can only be ended by 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. After that the Senate votes to confirm the nomination, which requires a simple majority of Senators present.
Republicans, as of the moment, maintain only an one-seat majority in the Senate, making the path ahead a steep one.
Why this matters so much
Kennedy's power within the Court as the swing vote has allowed him to shape legal decisions for years, and his retirement fundamentally reshapes the power of the Court.
In 2015, Kennedy was instrumental in the ruling which established the right to same-sex marriage. He has also been integral in a wide range of decisions from First Amendment cases to social issues like abortion and health care.
As the swing vote, liberal and conservative judges have had to gain Kennedy's support to achieve a majority, and often his legal reasoning becomes the opinion of the court when he does so.
By leaving, Kennedy upsets a careful balance and increases the likelihood that more conservative justices will be able to muster a majority more consistently then they have in decades.
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