I think it's safe to say this recontextualizes the midterms... since pretty much everyone else is already saying so. Some excerpts from the CNN announcement:
The retirement is effective July 31, Kennedy said in a letter to President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
Kennedy's decision to step down could transform the Supreme Court for generations. Trump will have his second opportunity to nominate a justice and will likely replace Kennedy with a young, conservative jurist. That would create a bloc of five staunch conservative justices who could move the court further to the right and cement a conservative majority for the foreseeable future.
The court opening is also likely to drastically alter both parties' approaches to November's midterm elections. Republicans, in particular, hope the vacancy activates a base that the party has worried would sit out this year's contests.
The timing couldn't be worse for the five Democratic senators up for re-election in states Trump won by double digits: Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. If those five vote against Trump's nominee, they'll hand Republicans a potent issue to hammer them with. If they vote for the nominee, they risk severe retribution from within the Democratic Party.
Recalling McConnell's action, Democrats have begun calling for a delay until after the midterms.
Personal dignity and liberty are constant themes in Kennedy's jurisprudence as well as the limitation of federal power over the sovereignty of the states.
Kennedy disliked the label of "swing vote," but he did side with his conservative colleagues on issues such as campaign finance, gun control and voting rights. He also cast a vote with conservatives in Bush v. Gore, the 2000 case on disputed electoral results that cleared the way for the presidency of George W. Bush.
Kennedy authored the majority opinion in Citizens United v. FEC striking down election spending limits for corporations and unions in support of individual candidates -- an opinion that liberals and Democrats on the campaign trail vowed to overturn.
To the dismay of conservatives, however, he joined the liberals on the court in other areas.
Kennedy voted to reaffirm the core holding of Roe v. Wade in 1992, only to vote to uphold a federal ban on a particular abortion procedure in 2007.
Nine years later, he sided once again with the liberals on the court to strike down a Texas law that abortion rights supporters thought was the strictest nationwide. Without Kennedy's vote, the law would have been allowed to go into effect, inspiring other states to pass similar legislation.
In the same term, Kennedy pivoted on the issue of affirmative action when he voted for the first time in favor of a race- conscious admissions plan at a public university.
After that term, former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal said, "It is very much Justice Kennedy's court."
Although for many years Kennedy served as the most important vote on the court, he was only the third choice of President Reagan in 1987. The Senate rejected Robert Bork after contentious hearings.
Judge Douglas Ginsburg dropped out after admitting he had smoked marijuana when he served as a law professor for Harvard.
But Reagan praised his choice when he introduced him to the country, calling Kennedy "that special kind of American who's always been there when we needed leadership."
Anthony Kennedy will probably be remembered as among the most powerful judges in American history. What will follow from his retirement will predictably be a bloodsport. With a Blue Wave just around the corner and the future of Roe v Wade conceivably on the line, the stakes are even higher than usual. And Republicans have all the power.
Or do they? Can the Democrats stall through the midterms? How would they accomplish this? Would it even amount to anything if they did? Trump says the process for Kennedy's replacement will begin immediately. McConnell says they'll be voting by fall.
Incidentally, I was on Chris Hayes' twitter earlier this afternoon drinking gallons of salt water (he concludes that Kennedy is "one of the most morally vain figures in American public life") when I happened upon a tweet from some gentleman named "Boko Harambe". He offered this bit of wisdom:
Constitutional originalism is the only correct interpretation of the constitution. If you want legislation passed or the constitution changed, that’s the legislature’s job.
Not bad for a guy that has a turtle eating a watermelon for his profile picture. There's something to be said for the argument that judicial review is in and of itself unconstitutional. At the very least it is a perversion of the republic that the Supreme Court is seen as the legislator of last resort. That is not their job. Unfortunately this is the world John Marshall gave us, and as such the best they can do is interpret the law correctly. Judicial activism is a self conscious farce, and it is not a legitimate philosophy.
The confirmation of Neil Gorsuch is the single greatest accomplishment of an administration and a ruling party that is desperate to be responsible for anything approaching adequacy, and I'd just as soon they repeat that miracle and on McConnell's schedule if at all possible. No number of Supreme Court vacancies would ever have justified the Trump presidency, but now that we're here we may as well make the best of it.