Kennedy was appointed by Ronald Reagan, and has held the key vote on such high-profile issues as abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, guns, campaign finance and voting rights.
Here are the hurdles any nominee would have to clear to be confirmed.
He sided with the court's four liberal justices on same-sex marriage: He wrote several rulings expanding marriage rights, including the 2015 decision that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country. At the time of Scalia's death, then-President Barack Obama had nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill Scalia's seat. The search, the president said, will begin immediately, and Kennedy's replacement will be chosen from the list of 25 candidates he considered previous year, when he ultimately chose Gorsuch.
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"I expect the nominee to be like Justice Gorsuch, to demonstrate excellence in every respect, and to earn widespread support from the American people, and bipartisan support for confirmation in the Senate", Leo said.
Kennedy's retirement has provoked liberal fears that the Supreme Court might soon have a pronounced conservative leaning that could overturn Roe v. Wade.
"Kennedy is often the pivotal vote on a nine-member court that already is fundamentally hostile to the abortion rights guaranteed in the landmark case". Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked the nuclear option, lowering the threshold from the super majority of 60 votes that is normally required for confirmation to a simple majority.
Few obstacles seem to stand in the way of confirming Kennedy's replacement before the court reconvenes in October.
A confirmation hearing usually happens about two months after a nomination is announced.