Senator Grassley not expecting imminent Supreme Court vacancy
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speaks at an event for Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) in Urbandale, Iowa, in this file photo taken January 30, 2016. (REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/Files)

The head of the U.S. Senate committee that handles Supreme Court nominees said on Friday he no longer expects an imminent court vacancy, bolstering assumptions among court-watchers since mid-year that Justice Anthony Kennedy will not retire this year.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said expectations earlier this year of a vacancy on the nine-member bench have evaporated.

"Evidently that's not going to happen," Grassley said in a telephone interview from his home state of Iowa during the Senate's summer break. "I don't have any expectation we will have a vacancy as I thought there would be" earlier this year.

There had been speculation in the spring that Kennedy, a conservative justice who turned 81 last month and has served on the court since 1988, was considering retirement. Kennedy is the regular swing vote on the high court, sometimes siding with the four liberal justices in major rulings.

A court vacancy would give Republican President Donald Trump a chance to appoint a second conservative justice to the high court since taking office in January.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Will Dunham)