Justice Anthony Kennedy, who provided key votes for same sex-marriage, abortion access and affirmative action, has announced his retirement from the US Supreme Court, a move that will give the President a chance to replace the pivotal justice and solidify a more conservative majority.
"It has been the greatest honour and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those years on the Supreme Court," The Washington Post quoted the 81-year-old as saying in a statement released on Wednesday, his last day of the term.
He said his final day in office will be July 31.
Kennedy hand-delivered a short letter of resignation to President Donald Trump, shortly after a half hour meeting at the White House.
"Please permit me by this letter to express my profound gratitude for having had the privilege to seek in each case how best to know, interpret and defend the Constitution and the laws that must always conform to its mandates and promises," Justice Kennedy wrote to Trump.
Trump said he held Kennedy in high esteem, reports CNN.
"He's been a great justice of the Supreme Court... He is a man who's displayed great vision, he's displayed tremendous vision."
Trump also announced that a search for a replacement from a list of 25 conservative jurists he had previously identified as candidates for the court's next vacancy will begin immediately, reports The New York Times.
Potential nominees include Brett M. Kavanaugh, a federal appellate judge for the District of Columbia Circuit who clerked for Justice Kennedy at the Supreme Court.
Another possibility is Judge Thomas M. Hardiman of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, whom Trump seriously considered last year to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016. The President chose Judge Neil M. Gorsuch instead.
Justice Kennedy, a Californian and graduate of Harvard Law School, was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1987.
He wrote some of the country's most important gay rights decisions and helped to drastically shift the US legal treatment of gays, lesbians and transgender people.
In 2015, he wrote the court's opinion that established the right for gay people to marry each other.
He determined how far a government may intrude on a woman's right to an abortion; whether attempts to curtail the corrupting influence of campaign contributions violated free speech; and how and when it was appropriate for the government to exercise affirmative action, The Washington Post reported.His decisions shielded juveniles and the intellectually disabled from death penalty.