WASHINGTON — The Senate will vote on a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy this fall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Wednesday.
“The Senate stands ready to fulfill its constitutional role by offering advice and consent…we will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a floor speech.
Kennedy, 81, announced his retirement — effective July 31 — in a letter to President Donald Trump on Wednesday. Kennedy has served on the high court for more than 30 years. He was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987.
Kennedy cast the deciding vote in many high-profile cases and is regarded by many as the court’s most impartial arbiter. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in a 2015 case that legalized same-sex marriage. Last week Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in a case that upheld the right of a Colorado baker to refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
Republicans occupy 51 seats in the Senate; Democrats occupy 49 seats. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is battling brain cancer and has been absent since last December.
Under the nuclear option, the Senate can cut off debate with 51 votes instead of 60.
The confirmation of Kennedy’s successor would tilt the balance of the nine member court in favor of conservatives.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged Democrats to exercise vigilance.
“This is the most important Supreme Court vacancy for this country in at least a generation,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a floor speech. “Nothing less than the fate of our health care system, reproductive rights for women, and countless other protections for middle-class Americans are at stake.”
Schumer added: “The Senate should reject, on a bipartisan basis, any justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade or undermine key health care protections. The Senate should reject anyone who will instinctively side with powerful special interests over the interests of average Americans.”