Republicans showered praise on retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for more than three decades of service to the nation — and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed that "we will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall."
"I want to pause and express our gratitude for the extraordinary service that Justice Kennedy has offered our nation," the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor. "We owe him a debt of thanks for his ardent defense of the First Amendment right to political speech.
"The Senate stands ready to fulfill its constitutional role by offering advice and consent on President Trump’s nominee to fill this vacancy," McConnell said.
Noting the contentious battle over the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed to the court in April, the majority leader added: "It is imperative that the president's nominee be considered fairly and not be subjected to personal attacks."
He said President Donald Trump's judicial nominees so far had "reflected a keen understanding of the vital role that judges play in our constitutional order.
"Judges must interpret the law fairly and apply it even-handedly," he added. "Judicial decisions must not flow from judges' personal philosophies or preferences, but from the honest assessment of the words and actual meaning of the law.
"This bedrock principle has clearly defined the president’s excellent choices to date," McConnell said. "We will look forward to yet another outstanding selection."
Kennedy, 81, who was nominated in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan, said his retirement as senior associate justice would take effect at the end of July — giving Trump the second opportunity to name a Supreme Court justice and further solidify its conservative majority.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday praised retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as "a man who has displayed tremendous vision and tremendous heart," telling reporters that his successor would be nominated from a list of 25 contenders that he began developing during the 2016 campaign.
"Hopefully, we're going to pick somebody who will be as outstanding," Trump said in the Oval Office.
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the nomination process, also referenced Trump's list.
"The next step is to wait for the president to make a decision," he told reporters outside the Capitol. "I don't have an idea who that is, but we know what the president has said in the past: that properly vetted nominees would come off of a list that he put forth.
"It would be better to say that that would be the type of person that he might select," he said.
But Texas Sen. Ted Cruz endorsed one name on President Trump's list, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, as Kennedy's successor.
"I think the single best choice the president could make is Sen. Mike Lee," Cruz told Dana Perino on Fox News. "I think he would be extraordinary."
In other tributes to Kennedy, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said he was "a man of integrity and decency."
"He has earned the respect of the House and the American people," he said in a statement. "I look forward to the president nominating an eminently qualified successor who will be dedicated to upholding the Constitution."
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said that Kennedy was "widely respected for his consistent sense of decency and civility.
"This is an important moment as we look to the future of the court," he added, noting that "I look forward to President Trump’s nomination of a well-qualified individual who will respect the Constitution and the rule of law and exercise judicial restraint."
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Judiciary Committee member, said Kennedy "called them as he saw them."
"He is one of the most impactful justices in modern Supreme Court history," the senator said. "He should be proud of the service he has rendered to the rule of law and our nation as a whole."
Other Republicans underscored the bitter partisanship surrounding Gorsuch's confirmation and expressed hope that it would not occur this time around.
"I hope the president will choose a principled, well-qualified nominee committed to upholding the rule of law and interpreting the Constitution faithfully, rather than rewriting it," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said in a statement.
"I also hope Democrats will consider whomever the president chooses on the merits and not subject the nominee to unfair, personal attacks."
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, another Judiciary panel member, said news of Kennedy's retirement "just broke — and Washington is already gearing up for red vs. blue blood sport.
"Americans ought to aim higher because, as Justice Kennedy put it: 'Our system presumes that there are certain principles that are more important than the temper of the times.'
"Let's get to work," Sasse said.
In the House, Rep. Jeff Duncan, who also represents South Carolina, said that "nominating justices to the Supreme Court is one of the most important responsibilities of any president.
"In fact, it is alarming exactly how important the courts have become in recent years — often attempting to legislate from the bench and overstepping the boundaries of the judiciary," he added.
"It is extremely important that presidents nominate strict constructionists to the court who closely adhere to the Constitution and the wisdom of our Founding Fathers."
Several pro-life groups also weighed in on Kennedy's retirement, including the Susan B. Anthony List, which praised Trump for his Gorsuch nomination.
"Justice Kennedy's retirement marks a pivotal moment for the fight to ensure every unborn child is welcomed and protected under the law," SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.
"The most important commitment that President Trump has made to the pro-life movement has been his promise to nominate only pro-life judges to the Supreme Court, a commitment he honored by swiftly nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch.
"President Trump now has another crucial opportunity to restore respect for life and the Constitution," Dannenfelser said in a statement. "We trust him to follow through on his promise."
Other Republicans and conservatives took to Twitter:
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