U.S. rights groups, doctors sue to stop Georgia ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban

FILE PHOTO: Abortion-rights campaigners attend a rally against new restrictions on abortion passed by legislatures in eight states including Alabama and Georgia, in New York City, U.S., May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

(Reuters) – A group of civil rights organizations, doctors and clinics sued Georgia’s government on Friday to overturn a law passed in March that bans abortions if an embryonic or fetal heartbeat can be detected.

The law, which was passed by Republicans, will make abortion possible only in the first few weeks of a pregnancy absent a medical emergency, in many cases before a woman even realizes she is pregnant. It is due to take effect in January.

“This law is an affront to the dignity and health of Georgians,” the lawsuit, which was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the plaintiffs, said. It said that Georgians, particularly black Georgians, already die from pregnancy-related causes at a higher rate than in most other U.S. states.

At least four other Republican-led states this year passed laws dramatically limiting abortion. The laws are in conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which found that women have a constitutional right to abort a pregnancy.

Some religious conservatives hope the passage of such laws will force the Supreme Court, in which conservative-leaning justices hold the majority, to revisit and even overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. Until the new law takes effect, Georgians are allowed to get an abortion until about the 20th week of pregnancy, with narrow exceptions.

The lawsuit names Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr, and other state government and medical officials as defendants. The lawsuit asks a judge to block the law from being enforced.

A spokeswoman for Carr, Katie Byrd, said by email that her office could not comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for Kemp did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A doctor who performs an abortion after an embryonic or fetal heartbeat is detected could be imprisoned for up to 10 years under Georgia’s new law.

Defenders of the law say they believe an embryo or a fetus should be afforded similar rights to those of a baby, often citing religious arguments in their support.

The law’s opponents say denying women abortions has already been deemed unconstitutional, and note that abortion restrictions force some women to turn to riskier means to end a pregnancy, which can sometimes be deadly.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Susan Thomas and Bill Trott)

Ex-U.S. Marine accused of spying by Russia asks Trump to help

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, speaks inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing to consider an appeal to extend his detention in Moscow, Russia June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A former U.S. Marine held in Russia on suspicion of spying called on U.S. President Donald Trump and the leaders of Britain, Canada and Ireland to help him as he appeared in court at an appeal hearing on Thursday.

Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 and accused of espionage, a charge he denies. If found guilty, he faces up to 20 years in jail.

Whelan said last month that he had been threatened by a Russian investigator in custody and harassed, accusations that added to strains in U.S.-Russian relations.

“Mr president (Trump), we cannot keep America great unless we aggressively protect and defend American citizens wherever they are in the world,” Whelan told reporters at a hearing in Moscow on Thursday.

“I am asking the leaders and governments in Ottawa, Dublin, London and Washington for their help and public statements of support,” he said, standing inside a glass cage.

Whelan’s lawyer has said his client was framed and that he was given a flash drive by an acquaintance that he thought contained holiday photos, but that actually held classified information.

Whelan was in court on Thursday to appeal against the extension of his custody until Aug. 29. The court ruled against him.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Russia extends detention of ex-U.S. Marine accused of spying

Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan who is being held on suspicion of spying talks with his lawyers Vladimir Zherebenkov and Olga Kralova, as he stands in the courtroom cage after a ruling regarding extension of his detention, in Moscow, Russia, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

By Tom Balmforth and Alexander Reshetnikov

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court on Friday ruled that Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine accused of spying, should be held in a pre-trial detention facility for a further three months to give investigators more time to look into his case.

Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 and accused of espionage, a charge he denies. If found guilty, he could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.

The case has put further strain on already poor U.S.-Russia relations as has that of another detained American, private equity chief Michael Calvey.

Russia’s Federal Security Service detained Whelan after an acquaintance handed him a flash drive containing classified information. Whelan’s lawyer says his client was misled.

Whelan had met the same person in the town of Sergiev Possad in May last year where they visited the town’s monastery and other tourist sites, the lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, told reporters on Friday.

When Whelan returned to Russia again in December to attend a wedding, the same acquaintance unexpectedly turned up and gave him a flash drive containing what Whelan thought were photographs of the earlier trip, the lawyer said.

“Paul and I consider this was a provocation and a crime by his acquaintance,” said Zherebenkov, saying Whelan had known the man, whom he did not name, for several years.

Whelan on Friday appeared in court in a cage and looked downcast when he spoke briefly to reporters before masked security officials cut him off.

“I could do with care packages, food, things like that, letters from home,” Whelan said.

The court on Friday said Whelan would be held in pre-trial detention until May 28, extending an earlier ruling to keep him in custody until Feb. 28.

The U.S. embassy in Moscow said a consular official had visited Whelan in custody on Thursday.

It said, however, that it was unable to provide further information as Whelan had not been allowed by investigators to sign a privacy act waiver (PAW) that would legally allow the U.S. government to release information about the case.

“In every other instance, we have been able to obtain a signed PAW, but in Mr. Whelan’s case, the Investigative Committee is not allowing this to happen. Why is this case any different?” embassy spokeswoman Andrea Kalan wrote on Twitter.

(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Maxim Rodionov; editing by Andrew Osborn)

Pakistan court upholds acquittal of Christian woman accused of blasphemy

Paramilitary soldiers stand guard outside the Supreme Court building in Islamabad, Pakistan January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir

By Asif Shahzad

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the acquittal of a Christian woman who spent years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy, dismissing a petition filed by Islamists who have called for her execution.

“On merit, this petition is dismissed,” Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said in court, saying the petitioners, led by a village prayer leader, had failed to point out any mistake in the original judgment

Asia Bibi, a farm worker, was convicted in 2010 of making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors working in the fields with her objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.

Her conviction was overturned in October, prompting protests from religious hardliners calling for her death and demanding that the government prevent her from leaving the country.

Under pressure from days of protests in the capital, Islamabad, and other cities, the government agreed to stop Bibi leaving the country until the Supreme Court heard a review petition.

Bibi, who spent eight years on death row, has been in hiding since the Supreme Court freed her in October. She has always denied committing blasphemy.

In remarks in court, Khosa was severely critical of the petitioners’ attempt to have the judgment reversed and said Bibi had been convicted on the basis of false evidence, pointing to discrepancies in testimony presented in the original case.

“You think we give the death sentence to someone on the basis of false evidence?” Khosa said. “Such lies were told that one statement doesn’t match with another.”

“Please point out any error in our judgment and we’re ready to rectify it,” he said.

“You start declaring someone deserves to be killed just on the basis of false evidence.”

Hours before the Supreme Court announced its decision, Shafeeq Ameeni, acting head of the hardline Tehreek-e Labaik group, which led the protests last year, issued a new warning to the court not to rule in favor of the “blasphemer”.

Ameeni was not immediately available for comment after the ruling.

Bibi’s case attracted headlines around the world last year, highlighting Pakistan’s strict anti-blasphemy laws which campaigners have urged the government to repeal.

Rights group Amnesty International issued a statement calling for Bibi, who is staying at an undisclosed location, to be allowed to “reunite with her family and seek safety in a country of her choice”.

“The authorities must also resist and investigate any attempts to intimidate the Supreme Court,” said Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner, Rimmel Mohydin.

“They have a duty to protect against threats of violence to harm religious minorities or the lives of judges or other government officials.”

If allowed to do so, Bibi is expected to seek asylum abroad. In November, Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau said his country was in talks with Pakistan about helping her.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Robert Birsel)

El Chapo loses last minute bid to postpone trial

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman walks out of United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York in the Brooklyn borough of New York, New York, U.S., October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Tuesday turned down a last-ditch effort by accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to delay his trial, scheduled to begin next Monday with jury selection in Brooklyn federal court.

Lawyers for Guzman said in a motion last week that they needed more time to review more than 14,000 pages documents, largely related to key witnesses expected to testify against their client, that prosecutors turned over on Oct. 5.

However, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan said at a hearing on Tuesday that the volume of documents was in line with what they should have expected, noting that prosecutors had said in July that it could be 25,000 pages and that sprawling, complex cases like Guzman’s were necessarily challenging for both sides.

“Nobody is going to be as ready to try this case as they would like to be,” he said.

In what he called a small concession to the defense, Cogan ruled that opening statements in the trial would begin no earlier than Nov. 13, which could allow some extra time to prepare if jury selection finishes early next week.

Cogan also raised concerns at the hearing about the prosecutors’ planned case at the hearing. He said he was concerned that the prosecutors had indicated that they were prepared to present evidence that Guzman was involved in more than 30 murder conspiracies, even though the charges against him are for drug trafficking.

“This is a drug case,” he said. “I’m not in any way going to let them try a murder conspiracy case that happens to involve drugs.”

He said that while some evidence of murder conspiracies connected to alleged drug trafficking would be allowed, it would be limited.

Guzman, 61, has been in solitary confinement since being extradited to the United States from Mexico in January 2017. He was known internationally as the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Mail bomb suspect in court on Monday as CNN reports fresh package

Cesar Altieri Sayoc appears in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. in this August 31, 2005 handout booking photo obtained by Reuters October 26, 2018. Hennepin County SheriffÕs Office/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A suspicious package addressed to CNN was intercepted in Atlanta, the network announced on Monday, as a man accused of mailing bombs to the network and some of U.S. President Donald Trump’s leading critics was due to make his first appearance before a federal judge in Miami on Monday.

The package addressed to the news network was intercepted at an Atlanta post office, CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker said in a post on Twitter.

Zucker said there was no imminent danger and that since Wednesday all mail to CNN has been screened at offsite facilities. The Time Warner Center in New York, where CNN’s New York operation is located, was evacuated on Wednesday after a suspicious package turned up there.

Cesar Sayoc, a former male stripper and part-time pizza deliveryman, was arrested on Friday on suspicion of mailing at least 14 pipe bombs to CNN, a range of prominent Democrats, and other frequent targets of Trump’s scorn, including former President Barack Obama. Sayoc was due to appear in court in Miami later on Monday.

(Writing by Rich McKay; editing by Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis)

Man charged with Pittsburgh synagogue massacre due in court

FILE PHOTO: Mourners react during a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

By Jessica Resnick-Ault

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – The man charged with shooting 11 worshipers to death at a Pittsburgh synagogue, marking the deadliest ever attack on America’s Jewish community, was due to make his first court appearance on Monday before a federal judge.

Robert Bowers, 46, who has a history of posting anti-Semitic material online, has been charged with 29 criminal counts, including the violation of U.S. civil rights laws in what federal prosecutors say was a hate crime.

Several of the charges can be punishable by the death penalty.

Bowers is accused of storming into the Tree of Life temple in Squirrel Hill, the heart of Pittsburgh’s close-knit Jewish community, yelling “All Jews must die” as he opened fire on members of three congregations holding Sabbath prayer services there on Saturday morning.

In addition to the 11 mostly elderly worshipers who were killed, six people, including four police officers who confronted the gunman, were wounded before the suspect surrendered. Two of the surviving victims remained hospitalized in critical condition.

“The fact that this attack took place during a worship service makes it even more heinous,” U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said on Sunday at a news conference.

Bowers’ initial appearance before a judge was scheduled for Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, Brady said.

About 2,500 people attended an interfaith memorial service for the victims that was held late on Sunday on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

The dead included two brothers in their 50s, David and Cecil Rosenthal, a married couple in their 80s, Sylvan and Bernice Simon, and 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, the oldest of the victims.

Another was Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, a family physician who initially escaped the attack only to be killed when he returned to render aid to the wounded, according to a Wall Street Journal op-ed column by Pittsburgh carpet salesman Lou Weiss, who knew five of the victims personally.

The killings rocked the Squirrel Hill community, an enclave that encompasses several synagogues and Jewish religious schools, and sparked security alerts at places of worship across the country.

The massacre also took on political overtones as some complained that the confrontational, nationalistic rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump has encouraged right-wing extremists and fed a surge in activity by hate groups.

Trump, who branded Saturday’s shooting an act of pure evil and called on Americans to rise above hatred, was already facing similar criticism after pipe bombs were mailed last week to some of his most prominent political adversaries. The targets, mostly Democrats, included former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Cesar Sayoc, 56, a strip club DJ and part-time pizza delivery man whose van was pasted with pro-Trump images and slogans disparaging the political left, was arrested in the pipe bomb case on Friday and faced his first court appearance on Monday in Florida.

(Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Exclusive: Turkey’s Erdogan says court will decide fate of detained U.S. pastor

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Stephen Adler and Parisa Hafezi

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said a Turkish court, not politicians, will decide the fate of an American pastor whose detention on terrorism charges has hit relations between Ankara and Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday he was hopeful Turkey would release evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson this month. The preacher was moved to house arrest in July after being detained for 21 months.

In an interview with Reuters late on Tuesday while he was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meetings, Erdogan said any decision on Brunson would be made by the court.

“This is a judiciary matter. Brunson has been detained on terrorism charges … On Oct. 12 there will be another hearing and we don’t know what the court will decide and politicians will have no say on the verdict,” Erdogan said.

If found guilty, Brunson could be jailed for up to 35 years. He denies the charges. “As the president, I don’t have the right to order his release. Our judiciary is independent. Let’s wait and see what the court will decide,” Erdogan said.

U.S. President Donald Trump, infuriated by Brunson’s detention, authorized a doubling of duties on aluminum and steel imported from Turkey in August. Turkey retaliated by increasing tariffs on U.S. cars, alcohol and tobacco imports.

The Turkish lira has lost nearly 40 percent of its value against the dollar this year on concerns over Erdogan’s grip on monetary policy and the diplomatic dispute between Ankara and Washington.

“The Brunson case is not even closely related to Turkey’s economy. The current economic challenges have been exaggerated more than necessary and Turkey will overcome these challenges with its own resources,” Erdogan said.

Turkey’s central bank raised its benchmark rate by a hefty 625 basis points this month, boosting the lira and possibly easing investor concern over Erdogan’s influence on monetary policy. Erdogan said he was against the measure.

“It shows the central bank is independent. As the president, I am against high-interest rates and I am repeating my stance here again,” he said, adding that high rates “primarily scare away investors”.

“This was a decision made by the central bank … I hope and pray that their expectations will be met because high rates lead to high inflation. I hope the other way around will happen this time.”

The lira firmed slightly on Wednesday morning after Erdogan’s assurance on the independence of the central bank was published.

IMPROVING TIES

In an effort to boost the economy and attract investors, Erdogan will travel on Sept. 28 to Germany, a country that is home to millions of Turks.

“We want to completely leave behind all the problems and to create a warm environment between Turkey and Germany just like it used to be,” Erdogan said, adding that he will meet Chancellor Angela Merkel during his visit.

The two NATO members have differed over Turkey’s crackdown on suspected opponents of Erdogan after a failed coup in 2016 and over its detention of German citizens.

On Syria, Erdogan said it was impossible for Syrian peace efforts to continue with President Bashar al-Assad in power.

Earlier this month, Turkey and Russia reached an agreement to enforce a new demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib region from which “radical” rebels will be required to withdraw by the middle of next month.

But Erdogan said the withdrawal of “radical groups” had already started.

“This part of Syria will be free of weapons which is the expectation of the people of Idlib … who welcomed this step,” he said. The demilitarized zone will be patrolled by Turkish and Russian forces.

Close to 3 million people live in Idlib, around half of them displaced by the war from other parts of Syria.

Erdogan said Turkey will continue to buy natural gas from Iran in line with its long-term supply contract despite Trump’s threats to punish countries doing business with Iran.

“We need to be realistic … Am I supposed to let people freeze in winter? …Nobody should be offended. How can I heat my people’s homes if we stop purchasing Iran’s natural gas?,” he said.

Trump pulled the United States out of a 2015 multinational nuclear deal with Iran and in August Washington reimposed sanctions on Tehran, lifted in 2016 under the pact. U.S. sanctions on Iran’s energy sector are set to be re-imposed in November.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Andrew Heavens)

New Mexico family believed dead boy’s spirit would lead attacks: prosecutors

Personal articles are shown at the compound in rural New Mexico where 11 children were taken in protective custody after a raid by authorities near Amalia, New Mexico, August 10, 2018. Photo taken August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Hay

By Andrew Hay

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – A 3-year-old boy found buried at a New Mexico desert compound died in a ritual to “cast out demonic spirits,” but his extended family believed he would “return as Jesus” to identify “corrupt” targets for them to attack, prosecutors said in court on Monday.

Prosecutors’ account of an exorcism-like ritual, allegations of weapons training for children and references to martyrdom and conspiracy were aimed at persuading a judge to deny bond for the five adults charged with child abuse in the case.

Defense attorney Thomas Clark (R) sits next to his client, defendant Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, defense attorney Marie Legrand Miller (2nd L) and her client Hujrah Wahhaj (L) during a hearing on charges of child abuse in which they were granted bail in Taos County, New Mexico, U.S. August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Hay

Defense attorney Thomas Clark (R) sits next to his client, defendant Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, defense attorney Marie Legrand Miller (2nd L) and her client Hujrah Wahhaj (L) during a hearing on charges of child abuse in which they were granted bail in Taos County, New Mexico, U.S. August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Hay

However, state District Judge Sarah Backus said at the end of the four-hour detention hearing she remained unconvinced that the defendants posed a danger to the community and set bail at $20,000 for each of them.

“The state alleges that there was a big plan afoot,” Backus said in rendering her decision. “But the state hasn’t shown to my satisfaction, in clear and convincing evidence, what that plan was.”

Defense attorneys said prosecutors sought to criminalize their clients for being African-Americans of Muslim faith.

“If these people were white and Christian, nobody would bat an eye over the idea of faith healing, or praying over a body or touching a body and quoting scripture,” defense lawyer Thomas Clark told reporters after the hearing. “But when black Muslims do it, there seems to be something nefarious, something evil.”

Under terms of the judge’s order, four defendants were expected to be placed under house arrest with electronic ankle bracelets to ensure they remain within Taos County for the duration of the case.

The five suspects, who had established a communal living arrangement with their children in the high-desert compound, have been in custody since authorities raided their ramshackle homestead north of Taos 10 days ago.

The two men and three women are all related as siblings or by marriage. Three are the adult children of a prominent New York City Muslim cleric who is himself the biological grandfather of nine of the children involved.

The principal suspect, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 39, has also been charged with abducting his severely ill 3-year-old son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, from the Atlanta home of the boy’s mother in December.

Clark said Ibn Wahhaj would remain in custody due to a fugitive warrant against him in Georgia stemming from the cross-country manhunt that led investigators to the New Mexico compound.

The body of a young boy believed to be his son was found in a tunnel at the site three days after the raid. No charges have been filed in connection with the death.

For now, the thrust of the government’s case remains 11 counts of felony child abuse filed against each of the defendants – Ibn Wahhaj and his wife, Jany Leveille, along with his brother-in-law and sister – Lucas Morton and Subhannah Wahhaj – and a second sister, Hujrah Wahhaj.

The 11 children, ranging from one to 15 years old and described by authorities as starving and ragged when they were found, were placed in protective custody after the Aug. 3 raid.

WEAPONS AND RITUALS

According to prosecutors’ presentation on Monday, some of the children were given weapons training to defend the compound against a possible raid by law enforcement. However, the government said there was more to it than that.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Travis Taylor testified that the 15-year-old son of Ibn Wahhaj recounted one of the adults telling him the spirit of the dead 3-year-old would return “as Jesus” to direct the group in carrying out violent attacks. Taylor said prospective targets would include “the financial system, law enforcement, the education system.”

Prosecutor John Lovelace said the 3-year-old boy died during “a religious ritual” intended to “cast out demonic spirits.”

Abdul-Ghani stopped breathing, lost consciousness and died during a ceremony in which his father put his hand on the boy’s head and recited verses from the Koran, Taylor testified, citing interviews with Ibn Wahhaj’s 15-year-old and 13-year-old sons.

Prosecutors said in court documents last week that all five defendants were giving firearms instruction to the children “in furtherance of a conspiracy to commit school shootings.”

Authorities acknowledged in court on Monday that police had previously encountered Ibn Wahhaj, Leveille and seven of the children in December when they were involved in a traffic accident in Alabama.

Lovelace said police at the time found weapons and ammunition in the vehicle. Authorities let the group go after Ibn Wahhaj explained he was licensed to carry the guns as a private security agent and that he and the others were en route to New Mexico for a camping trip.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos; Writing by Steve Gorman, Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Tom Brown, Michael Perry and Paul Tait)

Justice Kennedy, U.S. Supreme Court’s pivotal vote, to retire

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said on Wednesday he plans to retire after three decades as a pivotal vote on the highest U.S. judicial body, giving President Donald Trump an opportunity to make the court more firmly conservative.

The conservative Kennedy, who turns 82 in July and is the second-oldest justice on the nine-member court, has become one of the most consequential American jurists since joining the court in 1988 as an appointee of Republican President Ronald Reagan. He proved instrumental in advancing gay rights, buttressing abortion rights and erasing political spending limits. His retirement takes effect on July 31, the court said.

“It has been the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those years on the Supreme Court,” Kennedy said in a statement.

The statement issued by the court said that Kennedy’s decision was motivated by his decision to spend more time with his family.

Kennedy is a traditional conservative who sometimes joined the liberal justices on key rulings, earning a reputation as the court’s “swing” vote who heartened conservatives and liberals alike, depending on the issue. Kennedy on Tuesday joined the court’s four other conservatives in giving Trump a huge legal victory by upholding the Republican president’s travel ban targeting people from several Muslim-majority countries.

Kennedy’s decision was disclosed on the final day of the court’s current term, which began in October. On Wednesday, he joined his fellow conservative justices in a 5-4 ruling that dealt a major setback to organized labor by shutting off a key union revenue source.

Trump on Wednesday said Kennedy had great vision and heart. The president said he will begin a search immediately for a new justice, with a list of 25 candidates. The Republican-led Senate can be expected to push to have the new nominee confirmed and on the court before the justices begin their next term in October.

Trump already has left an imprint on the court, restoring its 5-4 conservative majority with the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch last year after the president’s fellow Republicans in the Senate in 2016 refused to consider Democratic former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.

While Kennedy’s replacement will not change the numerical ideological balance on the court, Trump could appoint a justice who would be more staunchly conservative than Kennedy and less likely to occasionally side with the court’s liberal wing.

MAJOR SOCIAL ISSUES

Without Kennedy on the bench, the high court could move to the right on major social issues including abortion and gay rights. Kennedy wrote the landmark 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Conservative activists have long dreamed of building a firmly conservative majority on the court that would push to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling in the case Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide.

Kennedy disappointed conservatives by joining Supreme Court decisions that affirmed the Roe decision, including a landmark 1992 ruling in the case Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Gorsuch already has demonstrated that he is one of the most conservative members of the court, aligning himself with Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. [nL1N1OE2GT]

The U.S. Senate, which must confirm nominees before they can join the court, is controlled 51-49 by Trump’s fellow Republicans, meaning that if they remain unified they can overcome any Democratic opposition like that mounted against Gorsuch. Senate Republicans changed the chamber’s rules during the Gorsuch nomination battle to prevent Democrats from insisting on a 60-vote super-majority, allowing court nominees to win confirmation by a simple majority vote.

Kennedy personally delivered his retirement letter to the White House on Wednesday afternoon, after he told his fellow justices of his plans at their afternoon conference.

Trump picked Gorsuch from a list of names, mostly conservative federal appeals court judges, he circulated during his 2016 election campaign. The White House last November issued an expanded list that includes other prominent conservatives, including Judge Brett Kavanagh, a former Kennedy law clerk who serves on the U.S. appeals court in Washington.

While Kennedy sided with conservative colleagues on many issues and authored the landmark 2010 ruling that allowed unlimited corporate spending in political campaigns, his tenure also included strong support for the liberal cause of gay rights.

Kennedy, mild-mannered and professorial, followed a thoughtful, middle-of-the-road approach and often posed probing, intellectual questions of lawyers arguing cases. He became the swing vote on the ideologically divided court after fellow centrist conservative Justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired in 2006.

Kennedy was Reagan’s third choice to fill the court seat left open by the retirement of Lewis Powell in 1987. The Senate rejected Reagan’s first nominee, outspoken conservative Robert Bork, in a fierce partisan fight and second choice Douglas Ginsburg withdrew after admitting to past marijuana use.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)