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Trump to announce Supreme Court nominee on July 9

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WASHINGTON, June 29 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he will announce his choice to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on July 9, from a short list of candidates.

Supreme Court vacancies have become a key voting issue in the U.S. presidential election. In a CNN exit poll, 70 percent of 2016 American voters said the Supreme Court was an important factor in their vote.

"Outside of war and peace, of course, the most important decision you make is the selection of a Supreme Court judge, if you get it. As you know, there are many presidents who never get a choice," Trump said.

Furthermore, of the court's four liberals, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 and Justice Stephen Breyer turns 150 this summer, meaning that Trump could have the chance to fill more openings.

Republicans changed Senate rules last year to get Trump's conservative nominee Neil Gorsuch confirmed, lowering the threshold to advance Supreme Court nominations to a simple majority vote.

It's widely expected the next appointee could shift the current balance of Supreme Court to a more conservative-learning bench.

"I'll probably interview six or seven" candidates altogether, Trump said. "It is a group of highly talented, very brilliant, mostly conservative judges."

Speaking aboard Air Force One, the president said he will spend the weekend interviewing some candidates at his golf club in New Jersey.

Kennedy, 81, the court's currently longest-serving member and second-oldest justice, announced on Wednesday that he is retiring, effective on July 31. Nominated by Republican President Ronald Reagan and confirmed in 1988, Kennedy is widely thought to be a moderate and pivotal swing vote on the court.