Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is considered the Supreme Court's swing justice, announced Wednesday that he is retiring
Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is considered the Supreme Court’s swing justice, announced Wednesday that he is retiring.

Kennedy, 81, says his retirement will take effect at the end of July, The Washington Post reported.

His departure will pave the way for President Donald Trump to choose a new, likely more conservative successor, which could make the Supreme Court a solidly conservative body for years to come.

This will be Trump’s second high-court pick; he nominated the reliably conservative Neil Gorsuch in July 2017 to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia following his death.

Trump told reporters that Kennedy came to the White House — about 30 minutes before the news broke — to personally inform the president of his decision.

Trump said he would “begin immediately” to find a replacement. Kennedy “has been a great justice of the Supreme Court,” Trump said. “Hopefully we will pick someone who is just as outstanding.”

On Twitter, reaction from Democrats and progressives was dire. “This is AWFUL can’t he [Kennedy] wait a little longer at least through the midterms?” asked @Colleen29594570.

And CNN’s Jeff Zeleny pointed out that it’s easier now for Trump to get his chosen nominee approved by the Senate. “The magic number: 51. That’s how many votes the next Supreme Court justice can be confirmed with, rather than 60, under rules adopted last year by Senate Republican majority. Incredibly key now,” Zeleny tweeted.

TV judge and full-throated Trump supporter Jeanine Pirro trumpeted: “Justice Kennedy retiring – great opportunity to make America great again!”

Since Pirro’s name had been earlier floated as a possible Trump choice for lifetime appointment to the high court, some on Twitter saw her tweet as lobbying. “And the campaign begins,” Los Angeles Times White House correspondent Noah Bierman noted.

During his more than 30-year tenure as a Supreme Court justice, Kennedy has been the key vote on issues such as abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, guns, campaign finance and voting rights — alternately siding with conservatives and liberals. He notably voted to uphold the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision. More recently, however, he voted on Tuesday to uphold Trump’s travel ban.

Rumors have been flying for months about Kennedy’s retirement. In April, the New York Times editorial board wrote an op-ed pleading with Kennedy to remain on the Supreme Court, asking: “Did you spend a lifetime honoring and upholding the Constitution and the values of civility and decency in American public life only to have your replacement chosen by Donald Trump?”

Comedy writer-actor Carl Reiner also wrote a letter last year for the New York Times imploring Kennedy not to retire.

Reiner, 96, said, “I know what it means to be your age. I know the problems that come with the journey. But these are not ordinary times, and you, sir, are anything but an ordinary man.

The country needs justices like you who decide each case with fairness and humanity, and whose allegiance is to the Constitution of the United States of America, not to a party line.”

Flicking at the possibility that Kennedy’s retirement could potentially lead to the criminalization of abortion, Reiner added, “How would you feel, while reading your newspaper, seeing a headline that read ‘Roe v. Wade Overturned’?”