Anthony Kennedy is a conservative, one of the most conservative justices ever to serve on the Supreme Court, according to one often-mentioned analysis. Yet there has been something distinctly unifying about the role he has played, and it will be missed as he steps down after three decades on the court.

That has been especially so the past dozen years, or since Sandra Day O’Connor departed the court. For years, they were the swing votes. Read the opinions of O’Connor, and the former politician often comes to the front, rounding the sharp edges of viewpoints. Perhaps some of that rubbed off on her colleague. Whatever the case, Kennedy developed the open mind required of political give and take.

That’s not to say he was a deal-cutter. Rather, he displayed an admirable sense of the whole. At crucial turns, when a deepening divide loomed, he found a way to stitch things together, even with the court split 5-4.

Consider abortion rights, the Roe v. Wade precedent now at 45 years. Its continued place owes to Kennedy (and O’Connor) siding with those opposed to overturning the ruling, recognizing its part in the fabric of our lives. Or affirmative action, Kennedy long a critic yet when the moment arrived to cast it aside, he saw its larger contribution in helping to address persistent racial divides.

Credit Kennedy for advancing gay rights. He wrote all the major decisions, protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation and rejecting sodomy bans. His work culminated in the two opinions leading to support for gay marriage rights.

He could see what was happening. The country was changing, rapidly, experience the teacher, making it hard to deny gays and lesbians what they deserve, the individual dignity and rights the rest of us expect and enjoy.

At times, the late Antonin Scalia would mock Kennedy for somehow proving squishy. The ideological difference between the two was narrow. They both were part of Bush v. Gore, the court deciding no less than a presidential election, Citizens United, inviting bigger money into campaign spending, and Shelby County, weakening dramatically the Voting Rights Act. What was most different about the two conservatives is that Scalia didn’t remotely get the unifying element of the court the way Kennedy has, the place of restraint and court precedent.

As President Trump prepares to choose a successor, it is difficult to imagine anything like a Kennedy emerging. Chief Justice John Roberts has shown glimpses of such a temperament. Then there is the series of sharply divided 5-4 decisions of recent weeks, in which Kennedy joined. That is the direction, the court on a track to becoming more conservative, more conservative, it should be stressed, than the country, in light of public opinion surveys.

Add to the mix the brazen act of Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, denying Merrick Garland a hearing, let alone a confirmation vote, to succeed Scalia, though his nomination came with nearly a year left in Barack Obama’s second term. McConnell wanted voters to have a defining say via the presidential election.

It follows that voters again should have the final word with control of the Senate, and its advise and consent task, up for grabs in the November election. That is, except for McConnell having no qualms about reversing his position and the numbers to enforce his stance. Expect the fate of the Supreme Court to drive turnout among Republicans and Democrats, the polarization what Justice Kennedy looked to overcome at key moments for the country.