Democrats Are Relieved After Breyer Decision

Liberal justice praised after reports he is planning to retire at end of court's term
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 26, 2022 3:22 PM CST
Democrats Are Relieved After Breyer Decision
Justice Stephen Breyer listens during a forum at the French Cultural Center in Boston, Feb. 13, 2017.   (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

Justice Stephen Breyer is reportedly planning to retire from the Supreme Court at the end of its current term—and while no official announcement has been made, White House press secretary Jen Psaki fielded plenty of Breyer-related questions at Wednesday's briefing. Psaki said that while she couldn't discuss specifics, President Biden "certainly stands by" his promise to nominate a Black woman to the top court, the Guardian reports. Asked whether that woman could be Vice President Kamala Harris, Psaki said Biden "has every intention" of running for reelection with Harris on the ticket. More:

  • Biden "happy to talk about it later." When he was asked about Breyer's retirement at a White House event Wednesday, the president said he would be "happy to talk about it later." An official announcement is expected Thursday. Sources tell Politico that Breyer told the president last week about his intention to retire.

  • Liberals are relieved. Breyer, 83, is the most senior of the three remaining liberal justices on the court, as well as its oldest member, and liberals are relieved that he apparently plans to step down while there is plenty of time to confirm a successor while Democrats have a Senate majority, the AP reports. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Biden's nominee "will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed."
  • Praise for Breyer. Democrats praised Breyer for his contributions to the court since he was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1994—and for his decision to retire, the New York Times reports. Schumer said Breyer "embodies the best qualities and highest ideals of American justice," while Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones said he was glad Democrats won't risk "losing yet another seat on the high court to the radical, anti-democracy right."
  • The timeline. Democrats will now have the summer to get a nominee through the confirmation process, allowing her to join the court before the next term starts in October, weeks before the midterm elections, per Politico.

  • A potential successor. The Atlantic looks at the woman many SCOTUS-watchers consider the most likely nominee: Ketanji Brown Jackson, a 51-year-old former Breyer clerk who joined the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in June. Other possibilities include California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill, and US District Judge Michelle Childs, per the AP.
  • Breyer's legacy. The Washington Post examines the legacy Breyer will leave as a moderate liberal who often searched for compromise. In a speech last spring, he expressed worries about partisanship surrounding the court. "If the public sees judges as politicians in robes, its confidence in the courts—and in the rule of law itself—can only diminish, diminishing the court’s power, including its power to act as a check on other branches," he said.
(More Stephen Breyer stories.)

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