President Trump says process to replace Kennedy on Supreme Court will 'begin immediately'

President Donald Trump speaks at an event called Face-to-Face with our Future, June 27, 2018, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he would move quickly to nominate a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced that he will retire on July 31.

Trump told reporters the process would "begin immediately ."

The president said he would review an existing list of 25 candidates for the opening. The list was put together to fill the seat now held by Justice Neil Gorsuch. It was developed in consultation with conservative legal scholars.

"It will be somebody from that list," Trump said.

Among the front-runners is Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Also potential replacements: Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, and Raymond Kethledge of Michigan, who serves on the 6th Circuit. 

The retirement of Kennedy, who turns 82 next month, gives Trump the chance to further cement the court’s conservative bent. Kennedy, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, has been a swing vote on issues like abortion and affirmative action to gay rights and capital punishment. On those issues, he has often sided with the court's liberal justices. Trump has made clear he wants to nominate justices with staunch conservative credentials.

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Kennedy’s retirement is likely to elevate the issue of the Supreme Court in the Nov. 6 midterm elections, in which Democrats are seeking to wrest the House and Senate from Republican control.

Republicans have a 51-seat majority now, giving them the ability to withstand Democratic opposition. The traditional 60-vote threshold for high court nominees was abolished last April when Democrats threatened to block Gorsuch’s confirmation, prompting Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to push through a rules change allowing justices to be confirmed with simple majority votes.

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Contributing: Richard Wolf