Justice Kennedy retiring, giving Trump major high court pick

CBS News

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy started a political firestorm on Wednesday when he announced his retirement - giving President Donald Trump a second nomination to the high court and setting up a conservative majority.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, whom Trump nominated early a year ago to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, was seen as a crucial vote with fellow conservative justices in upholding the travel ban. Although not the oldest, he is the most senior member of the court, having been nominated by former President Ronald Reagan.

Richard Lazarus is the Howard and Katherine Aibel Professor of Law at Harvard University, where he teaches environmental law, natural resources law, Supreme Court advocacy, and torts.

His retirement, which will take effect at the end of July, allows Trump the chance to cement conservative control of the high court.

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The current ban, announced in September, prohibits entry into the U.S. of most people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. I never cry. We're here to calm people but I just get stressed out about it all. Lower courts had blocked the travel ban announced in September, as well as two prior versions, in legal challenges brought by the state of Hawaii and others.

"Justice Kennedy is a star".

With the court's five conservatives in the majority, the ruling also ended a fierce fight in the courts over whether the policy amounted to an unlawful Muslim ban. In a court with four liberal judges and four conservatives, Justice Kennedy, a moderate right-winger, often cast the deciding vote in some of the country's most contentious cases. Although conservative, he sometimes joined the liberal wing of the court and authored landmark opinions on cases dealing with abortion, campaign finance and LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage.

Trump already has left an imprint on the court, restoring its 5-4 conservative majority with the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch past year after the president's fellow Republicans in the Senate in 2016 refused to consider Democratic former President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland.

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"I'm very honored he chose to do it during my term in office because he felt confident in me to make the right choice and carry on his legacy", Trump told the crowd hours after the news of Kennedy's decision to leave the court sent shock waves through Washington. "He said, too, that admiration for his colleagues on the Court means that he will retain warm ties with each of them in the years to come".

The president said he will begin a search immediately for a new justice, with a list of 25 candidates.

Experts supporting the decision are at pains to explain that this decision is less of a Muslim ban and much more of a "Muslim terrorism" ban.

The U.S. Supreme Court is set for a rightward swing that could lead to sweeping changes to some of the most explosive culture-war issues roiling the country: a roll-back or abolition of abortion rights, the expansion of the death penalty and limits to programs that help minorities attend university.

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