As the U.S. Supreme Court closes this term, Justice Anthony Kennedy will retire.
After years of speculation about his retirement, it is not surprising. But it comes at a time that many Court-watchers feared.
The vacancy gives President Trump the chance to reshape the Court more than any president in recent history. Trump has already left his mark on the federal bench, and the next Supreme Court justice will wield power long after Trump leaves office.
Kennedy retires after 30 years on the High Court. He wrote a letter to Trump announcing his decision to retire effective July 31.
When he was appointed in 1988, he was viewed as a conservative justice. But over the years, he evolved in his role and voted often with his liberal colleagues.
He became the swing voter and arguably the most powerful justice as the Supreme Court divided 5-4 on burning questions such as abortion, executions, and same-sex marriage. In recent weeks, however, he has joined the conservative majority in split decisions on abortion counseling, racial gerrymandering, and the President's travel ban.
Republicans had urged Kennedy to retire before the November elections, anticipating a difficult confirmation process if Democrats gain seats in the Senate. The President's choice to replace Kennedy, of course, will set the stage.
Pundits predict Trump will nominate someone who is more conservative than Kennedy. He has already circulated a "short list" of 25 potential nominees.
Brett Kavanaugh, a former Kennedy clerk and judge on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, is considered a leading contender. Empirical SCOTUS, looking at Kavanaugh's ample record, said he often favored big business, employers, and government.
"Judge Kavanaugh's ability to toe a moderate line while ruling predominately conservatively should attract a mixed ideological base," the blog post said.