Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced on Wednesday that he is retiring after more than 30 years on the court, kicking off what is sure to be a vicious confirmation battle.
Kennedy informed the president of his decision, effective July 31, in a letter, which the court’s spokeswoman said he personally delivered to the White House on Wednesday afternoon.
Chief Justice John Roberts had adjourned the court for its summer recess just hours earlier.
“It has been the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those on the Supreme Court,” Kennedy said in a statement.
Kennedy added that while his family was willing for him to continue to serve, his decision to step aside was based on his deep desire to spend more time with them.
Kennedy, who turns 82 in July, is the court’s longest-serving member and second-oldest justice after its leading liberal, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 85.
Speculation that Kennedy was thinking about retiring started circling last term and gained steam this year. Some Republicans on Capitol Hill even claimed it was a definite, while others urged him to announce as soon as possible to give the GOP time to confirm his replacement before the midterm elections in November.
Nominated by former President Reagan and confirmed in 1988, Kennedy has made a name for himself as a moderate and pivotal swing vote on the court.
During his tenure, he sided with liberals to advance LGBT rights, save ObamaCare and limit the death penalty while voting with the conservative wing to protect religious liberty and limit campaign finance laws.
Democrats and liberals, still angry with Republicans’ refusal to hold a confirmation hearing or vote on Merrick Garland, former President Obama’s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, are sure to put up at fight, but they have little leverage.