Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a pivotal vote on a host of controversial political issues, announced Wednesday that he would retire from the High Court, providing President Donald Trump with the chance to nominate a second Justice to the bench, further cementing the court's conservative majority.
"For a member of the legal professions it is the highest of honors to serve on this Court," Kennedy said in a letter to President Trump.
The decision is certain to spur a heated confirmation hearing this summer in the Senate; the Supreme Court is now in recess until the beginning of the new term, on the First Monday in October.
"He's a very spectacular man," President Trump said of Kennedy. "Hopefully we're going to pick somebody who is going to be as outstanding."
Mr. Trump's first pick - Justice Neil Gorsuch - has been hailed by conservatives as a dynamic success on the Supreme Court.
Kennedy's decision to retire came after a string of 5-4 decisions that favored conservative causes, the latest coming a few hours earlier, when the Court ruled that public sector unions could not force non-members to pay union fees.
Now, the President will get to build on that Republican Party success, as Mr. Trump made clear he would choose someone from a list of two dozen more conservative jurists that he had made public before his selection of Gorsuch.
Democrats immediately feared the worst.
"This is a disaster for everyone who believes in the “We the People” vision of the Constitution," said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). "I'm worried about Roe v. Wade."
"Every name on Trump's shortlist would be another Neil Gorsuch," said Democratic strategist Brian Fallon. "Democrats should draw a line in the sand now that they will oppose anyone on that list."
That list of possible nominees is no secret - this is posted on the White House website:
"I think you see the kind of quality that we're looking at, when you look at that list," the President told reporters in the Oval Office. "It will be somebody from that list."
Meanwhile, Capitol Hill girded for what will likely be a contentious confirmation hearing later this summer.
"We will vote on Justice Kennedy's replacement this fall," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who no longer faces the threat of a filibuster against a Supreme Court nominee, as that rules option was done away with by the GOP in order to force a final vote on Justice Gorsuch.
"We look forward to another outstanding selection," McConnell added.
Democrats - still smarting from McConnell's refusal to hold hearings or a vote on Merrick Garland - President Barack Obama's nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia - demanded that no vote be held on a replacement for Kennedy until after the November elections.
"Millions of people are just months away from determining the Senators who should vote to confirm or reject the President's nominee," said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer. "Their voices deserve to be heard now."