Donald Trump now has the chance to alter life in America for generations after the retirement of Supreme Court judge Anthony Kennedy
One of the biggest decisions an American president gets to make is to appoint members of the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court, made up of the nine members who can serve for life if they wish, decides on key issues that affect Americans’ lives from immigration to the economy to marriage to religious freedom – pretty much everything.
And for many years, the Supreme Court has been delicately balanced between four liberal judges – mainly appointed by Democratic presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – and conservative judges – appointed by Republicans such as George Bush.
In many crucial cases, the deciding fifth vote came down to one man: Anthony Kennedy.
Kennedy was appointed in 1988 by Republican president Ronald Reagan but, on many issues, took a moderate stance and often became the swing vote. It was his vote to side with the liberal judges that legalised gay marriage in the United States in 2015, for example.
But yesterday came a political bombshell that could change life in America for generations: at the ripe old age of 81, Anthony Kennedy is retiring.
In a letter to Mr Trump announcing his decision, Kennedy expressed “profound gratitude” for having served in the highest court.
Now, this is crucially important because Donald Trump is now allowed to appoint his successor and all signs point to Trump choosing a hard-core, right-wing judge who can side with the four other conservatives on the court and undo some central planks of American life.
Abortion is one area where the Supreme Court could change the law, for example.
Justice Kennedy has frequently sided with abortion rights advocates in the court to defend the key 1973 decision Roe v. Wade. But with the prospect of a more conservative replacement on the Supreme Court, CNN legal analyst predicted on Twitter that abortion “will be illegal in twenty states in 18 months.”
And gay marriage could even be under threat. Political commentator Amy Siskind added: “We are in serious danger of losing gay marriage.”
What makes this news especially depressing is that Supreme Court judges hold their seats for life – meaning their impact on the law in the US will be felt for years and years.
Kennedy will officially retire on 31 July and the race is now on for Donald Trump and the Republicans, who currently control the Senate, to find and approve his replacement as quick as possible.
The Senate has the final vote on whether or not to approve the president’s pick so the Republicans will not want to risk waiting until the midterm elections, when they are expected to do poorly and could even lose control of the Senate.
It’s another dark day in Trump’s America – and it’s hard to see things getting any brighter any time soon.