Kennedy, the 81-year-old senior associate justice who has been the swing vote in some of the nation’s most heated legal cases, told the White House in a letter of his intent to leave the court after 30 years, effective July 31.
The decision gives President Donald Trump another turn at shaping the Supreme Court, following his decision last year to add Kennedy’s former law clerk Neil Gorsuch to the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Here are seven of the leading candidates to take Kennedy’s seat:
1. Brett Kavanaugh of Maryland, 53, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit: Kavanaugh was appointed in 2006 by George W. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He previously worked in the Bush White House as Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary and was a partner at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm and once clerked for Kennedy.
2. Raymond Gruender, 54, of Missouri, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit: Gruender worked as the Missouri state director for GOP nominee Bob Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996 and went on to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri before the Senate in 2004. He wrote an opinion that a 1978 pregnancy law does not give female employees the right to contraceptive coverage.
3. Thomas Hardiman, 52, of Pennsylvania, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit: Hardiman was among those interviewed by Trump to fill Scalia’s vacancy. He is also reportedly the favorite of Trump’s sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, with whom he serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. He has previously written two majority opinions, one backing the strengthening of mandatory minimum sentences for criminals.
4. Raymond Kethledge, 51, of Michigan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit: Kethledge was originally nominated to his current job by Bush in 2006, but due to opposition from Michigan’s two Democratic senators, he was not confirmed until a compromise deal was reached two years later. His 2014 ruling against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was hailed by a Wall Street Journal editorial as “opinion of the year.”
5. William H. Pryor Jr., 56, of Alabama, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit: Pryor was nominated by Bush to the appeals court but survived a and a two-year standoff before Republicans and Democrats finally came up with a deal that confirmed him. Pryor is a conservative and harsh critic of Roe v. Wade, calling the ruling “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.”
6. Amy Coney Barrett, 46, of Indiana, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit: Barrett was confirmed last year after a bruising confirmation fight where Democrats questioned whether she would let her Catholic faith play too big a role in her legal thinking. Those questions put off religious conservatives, who came to her defense.
7. Amul Thapar, 49, of Kentucky, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit: Thapar had worked as a federal prosecutor in Kentucky before eventually becoming a district court judge. A favorite of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Trump interviewed him for Scalia’s seat last year.