The nine-point difference could suggest an enthusiasm gap between the parties, as liberal groups sound the alarm that a newly configured court could outlaw abortion rights if a conservative nominee replaces Kennedy's swing vote. But Trump could move to appoint a much more reliable conservative.
There are so far five names that stand out as front-runners - 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett; 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Thomas Hardiman, who was the runner-up to Neil Gorsuch on the president's first Supreme Court pick; D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh; and 6th Circuit Court of Appeals' Judges Raymond Kethledge and Amul Thapar.
Murkowski isn't rated as favorably among abortion rights groups, she has a 58-percent vote rating in 2018 from Planned Parenthood, but arguably there is no one in the Senate more independent than the Alaska Republican, and prouder of her reputation among women in her state.
"Kennedy is at or near the top on nearly all measures of power or influence", said Lee Epstein, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis.
"Political speeches are just that, but the next day, I'm ready to get to work", Heitkamp said in a statement following a private meeting with the president.
Kennedy was one of the most crucial median justices in building a majority because the distance between him and the justices on either side of him ideologically was so large in most of the years in which he had that role. "And that'll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court".
From 1993 to 2005, Kennedy shared the center of the court with O'Connor. The average age of the circuit court nominations he made in his first year was 49, and for district judges, the average age was 51. After Trump's appointment of Neil Gorsuch a year ago, Democrats fret that a fifth conservative judge on the Court could put the right to abortion at risk.
"He's an outstanding talent", Trump said of Lee.
Pro-choice demonstrators wave signs in front of the US Supreme Court 30 November 2005, in Washington, DC. Since 1937, no chief justice has also been the median justice.
A new poll Friday found 67 percent of Americans are opposed to rolling back the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that guarantees a woman's right to an abortion.
"Because Kennedy drifted right this term, he and Roberts shared the median spot", Epstein said.