President Donald Trump basked in the news of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s upcoming retirement during a rally in North Dakota on Wednesday and promised to fill his seat with a conservative nominee who’s going to serve for “40 years” or more.
“He felt confident in me to make the right choice and carry on his great legacy,” Trump, visibly energized, told a packed arena in Fargo. “That’s why he did it … Justice Kennedy is a star.”
Kennedy, 81, said Wednesday that he’d step down from the bench on July 31 after serving three decades since his appointment by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. A frequent swing vote in the past, Kennedy sided with the court’s conservative bloc in every one of the 5-4 split decisions this term.
“It has been the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those years on the Supreme Court,” Kennedy said in a statement announcing the decision. He said he chose to retire to spend more time with family.
Trump said he would immediately begin the hunt for Kennedy’s replacement and said he would look through his list of 25 people that he began compiling during the 2016 campaign. The New York Times notes that the president has suggested he may nominate a former clerk of Kennedy’s as a replacement, which may have made the justice more willing to step down.
“I think you see the kind of quality that we’re looking at when you look at that list,” Trump told reporters at the White House after Kennedy’s announcement. “So it will be somebody from that list.”
At the rally, Trump appeared to set his sights on someone who could serve on the court for decades to come, like 50-year-old Justice Neil Gorsuch, his first appointment.
“Remember this, we have to pick a great one,” Trump told the crowd in Fargo. “We have to pick one that’s going to be there for 40 years, 45 years. We need intellect, we need so many things. …There’s so many elements that go into the making of a great justice.”
He also urged voters to elect more Republicans in November to ensure conservative power in the judiciary.
“Justice Kennedy’s retirement makes the issue of Senate control one of the vital issues of our time,” Trump said. “The most important thing we can do. Democrats want judges who will rewrite the Constitution and take away your Second Amendment, erase your borders, throw open the jailhouse doors and destroy your freedoms.”
Some Democrats have demanded that Republicans delay the confirmation of Trump’s choice until after the midterm elections in November, in line with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s stonewalling of former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland. McConnell, however, said he intends to vote on Kennedy’s replacement as soon as possible and called on senators to treat the choice “fairly.”
“We will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall,” McConnell said on Wednesday.