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Justice Kennedy, the pivotal swing vote on the Supreme Court, announces retirement

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Justice Anthony M. Kennedy announced Wednesday that he is retiring from the Supreme Court, a move that gives President Trump the chance to replace the court’s pivotal justice and dramatically shift the institution to the right, setting up a bitter partisan showdown on Kennedy’s successor.

“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, who is stepping down July 31, said in a statement.

Kennedy, 81, joined the court in 1988 and has been its most important member for more than a decade. The Californian, who was chosen by President Ronald Reagan, has cast the deciding vote on the court’s controversial Citizens United campaign finance decision, the constitutional right to same-sex marriage and the continued viability of affirmative action.

On almost every major issue that has faced the court in recent years, neither the court’s liberal, Democratic-appointed justices nor Kennedy’s fellow ­Republican-appointed conservative colleagues could prevail without his swing vote.

His decision likely will make Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. the central justice on the nine-member court. Roberts, 63, has shown himself to be well to the right of Kennedy.

Washington could be in for an epic battle over Kennedy’s replacement. While Senate Democrats lack the numbers to deny the seat to whoever Trump chooses, they will ratchet up the stakes of the choice.

It will be the first time since Justice Clarence Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall more than 25 years ago that a new justice could radically change the direction of the court. Since then, new members added to the court have replaced justices of the same general ideology.

Kennedy is a courtly presence on the court, with a gentlemanly demeanor and a jurisprudence based on the respect the Constitution provides for individual liberty and dignity.

He was a compromise choice for Reagan, who had first nominated the more controversial conservative Judge Robert Bork for the position. The Senate voted him down.

Kennedy has been a disappointment to the right, which has been unable to forgive his vote to uphold the basic underpinnings of Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed a woman’s right to choose an abortion. And Kennedy has written each of the court’s major gay rights decision, including Obergefell v. Hodges, which said the Constitution requires that gay couples be allowed to marry.

Liberals came to value Kennedy because he was the best they could hope for. But Kennedy most often votes with the court’s conservatives: He is further to the right on law-and-order issues than Justice Antonin Scalia was, he is comfortable with the court’s protective view of business, and he shared the losing view that the entire Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

His belief that campaign finance regulation often violates free speech was exemplified in his authorship of the opinion in Citizens United, which has opened the door for an explosion of big money in elections.

Whoever Trump nominated to fill Kennedy’s seat will likely share those views, but not his liberal opinions on social issues.

Trump convinced evangelicals and other conservatives to support him based on the next president’s ability to shape the Supreme Court, a promise he has already begun to fulfill. Early in his term, he successfully place conservative Neil M. Gorsuch on the bench, and he could have the chance to fill more openings.

Of the court’s four liberals, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 and Justice Stephen G. Breyer turns 80 this summer.

Gorsuch’s appointment returned the court to the status quo that existed before Scalia died. But a court without Kennedy would be a different place.

With Kennedy on board, a five-member majority struck down a Texas law that it said used protecting women as a pretext for making abortion unavailable, and the court continued a limited endorsement of affirmative action.

Many if not all of those holdings would be at risk in a court with five consistent conservatives, the oldest being 69-year-old Justice Clarence Thomas.

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Joe Biden named Sen. Kamala D. Harris as his running mate

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Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has chosen Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate, elevating a former presidential candidate whose most electric campaign performance came when she criticized his record on school integration during a debate.

Harris will be the first Black woman and first Asian American to run for vice president, representing a historic choice at a moment when the country is grappling with its racial past and future. The announcement was made in a text and a tweet from Biden.

“Back when Kamala was Attorney General, she worked closely with Beau,” Biden tweeted, referring to his late son, then the attorney general of Delaware. “I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I’m proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign.”

Harris, 55, is the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants. The first-term senator previously served as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general.

Her prosecutorial record has drawn attacks from party liberals, who have criticized her past stances as too harsh and contend that her record does not meet a moment when police misconduct has rocketed into the national conversation.

But Harris also has built a reputation in Washington as a sharp questioner in Senate hearings, particularly of Trump administration nominees. She has been a forceful advocate for Black families during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and she helped draft a bill ending qualified immunity for police.

Harris kicked off her presidential campaign little more than two years after joining the Senate, with an electrifying Oakland, Calif., rally that drew more than 22,000 supporters. But she struggled to define herself to voters, shifting from one message to the next. She failed to take off in the polls and dropped out in early December, citing financial problems.

Harris and Biden have known each other for several years, and Harris worked closely with Biden’s late son, Beau, when both served as attorneys general.

That made it all the more shocking to Biden and his team when, at the first Democratic primary debate, Harris went after Biden for his nostalgic talk about working with two segregationist senators.

“It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country,” Harris said during the debate. She also took Biden to task for his opposition to mandatory busing.

On the debate stage, she described a little girl who had benefited from her city’s busing program. “And that little girl was me,” she said. Within hours, her campaign was selling shirts emblazoned with the words and a childhood picture of Harris.

Biden’s wife, Jill, has described that moment as being “like a punch to the gut.” But since then, the two have publicly made up, with Harris acting as a surrogate for Biden and appearing with him and his wife in campaign events.

In a June appearance on the “Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” Harris jokingly defended her performance, saying: “It was a debate! The whole reason — literally, it was a debate. It was called a debate.”

“I’d be honored, if asked, and I’m honored to be a part of the conversation,” Harris told Colbert. “Honestly, let me just tell you something: I will do everything in my power, wherever I am, to help Joe Biden win.”

In late July, Biden was photographed with notes he had written to himself about Harris on his personal stationery. Included were: “talented,” “great help to campaign” and “do not hold grudges.”

Biden said on July 28 that he would name his running mate by the end of the first week of August, after extending his initial pledge to name the pick around Aug. 1. Aides then said it had slipped further. For weeks, advisers have been vetting the candidates in interviews and via extended searches into their backgrounds, records and personal experiences.

He had promised months ago to pick a woman, reflecting the dominance of female voters in the party and his effort to make a historic choice. Were he to win, the nominee would become the first female vice president.

The nominee also will come under heightened security because of Biden’s age; he will be 78 at the time of the next inauguration. Either he or his November opponent, President Trump, will be the oldest American president.

The selection process has been a mix of transparency and secrecy. While Biden has held his thoughts closely, with many allies saying he has been deliberately vague about his preferences, the parade of prospective candidates has played out publicly.

Several have broken with past practice and acknowledged an interest in the job; others, such as Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), have taken themselves out of the mix in a similarly public way.

Biden has sought the same kind of “simpatico” relationship with his pick that he shared with former president Barack Obama, in which he served as the last adviser on big administration decisions. He also has put a high premium on loyalty, according to those familiar with the search.

But his choice was also affected by events coursing across the nation.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) once looked like a front-runner, but the killing of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people put a spotlight on her record as a prosecutor, which has drawn criticism from Black activists. Klobuchar eventually removed herself from the running, saying that Biden should pick a woman of color for the ticket.

Biden also faced pressure to delay the pick until closer to the Democratic convention, which begins Aug. 17, to build a sense of momentum for an event that will largely be virtual, lacking the balloon-and-bunting atmosphere of the traditional convention celebrations.

In normal times, the two running mates would barnstorm around the country after the announcement, trying to lift the enthusiasm level of their own partisans and potentially attract new supporters. But Biden has held no large events since March, and has none planned.

The Democratic vice presidential nominee will formally be named at the national party convention, which will be largely virtual. The newly named nominee will debate Vice President Pence on Oct. 7 in Utah. The presidential debates — three are currently scheduled — will begin in September, barring any adjustments to the schedule. Two of them have already changed locations after the original host colleges determined it was unsafe to sponsor the event.

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U.S. Marines ID all 9 people killed in sea-tank sinking

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The U.S. Marine Corps has identified all nine people killed when a Marine landing craft sank in hundreds of feet of water off the Southern California coast.

Only one of their bodies was found, despite an intense days-long search involving helicopters and boats ranging from inflatables to a Navy destroyer.

Found at the scene was Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels Texas. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit announced on Sunday that the others, from California, Texas, Wisconsin and Oregon, are “presumed dead.”

They include: Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, California; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon; and Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California.

“Literally every asset we have available” was mobilized in the search for seven Marines and a Navy corpsman, Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said Friday.

They were aboard an amphibious assault vehicle that was heading back to a Navy ship Thursday evening after a routine training exercise when it began taking on water about a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) from Navy-owned San Clemente Island, off San Diego.

Other assault vehicles quickly responded but couldn’t stop the 26-ton, tank-like vehicle from quickly sinking, Osterman said.

“The assumption is that it went completely to the bottom” several hundred feet below, Osterman said. That was too deep for divers, and Navy and Coast Guard were discussing ways to reach the sunken vehicle to get a view inside it, Osterman said.

Seven other Marines were rescued from the water; two were in stable condition at a hospital, authorities said.

All the Marines were attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at nearby Camp Pendleton. They ranged in age from 19 to early 30s and all were wearing combat gear, including body armor, and flotation vests, Osterman said.

The vehicle, known as an AAV but nicknamed an “amtrac,” for “amphibious tractor” is used to take Marines and their gear from Navy ships to land.

The sunken craft, one of 13 involved in the exercise, was designed to be naturally buoyant and had three water-tight hatches and two large troop hatches, Osterman said.

The vehicles have been used since 1972, and continually refurbished. Marine Corps officials said Friday they did not know the age or other details of the one that sank.

The Marine Corps commandant, Gen. David Berger, suspended waterborne operations of more than 800 amphibious assault vehicles across the branch until the cause of the accident is determined.

This is the third time in recent years that Camp Pendleton Marines have been injured or died in amphibious assault vehicles during training exercises.

In 2017, 14 Marines and one Navy sailor were hospitalized after their vehicle hit a natural gas line, igniting a fire that engulfed the landing craft at Camp Pendleton.

In 2011, a Marine died when an amphibious assault vehicle in a training exercise sank offshore of the camp.

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Magic’s Jonathan Isaac stands for national anthem as teammates, opponents kneel

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Orlando Magic power forward Jonathan Isaac became the first NBA player to stand during the national anthem following the season restart … deciding against both kneeling and wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt.

The league’s coaches, refs and players — from LeBron James to Zion Williamson — have been using the anthem demonstrations to raise awareness as games pick back up in Orlando … a gesture that is being supported by NBA commish Adam Silver.

Isaac became the first player to choose to stand as the anthem was played before the Magic’s match-up with the Brooklyn Nets on Friday … while the rest of the team’s players and staffers took a knee.

It’s worth noting — Silver says everyone will have the option to kneel during the anthem without consequence … despite a league rule requiring players to stand.

The same goes for anyone who wishes to stand — no one is saying the players HAVE to kneel, either.

So far, Jonathan hasn’t commented on his decision to stand publicly — because the game is currently being played. But, when he does, we’ll update here.

Charles Barkley spoke about the demonstrations on Thursday during TNT’s “Inside The NBA,” saying, “The national anthem means different things to different people.”

“I’m glad these guys are unified. If people don’t kneel, they’re not a bad person. I want to make that perfectly clear. I’m glad they had unity, but if we have a guy who doesn’t want to kneel because the anthem means something to him, he should not be vilified.”

The Magic released a statement in support of the demonstration, saying, “The DeVos Family and the Orlando Magic organization fully supports Magic players who have chosen to leverage their professional platform to send a peaceful and powerful message condemning bigotry, racial injustice and the unwarranted use of violence by police, especially against people of color.”

“We are proud of the positive impact our players have made and join with them in the belief that sports can bring people together — bridging divides and promoting inclusion, equality, diversity and unity.”

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