Stephen Breyer’s retirement paves the way for possible appointment for the first black woman in the Supreme Court.
Longtime U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will retire, giving President Joseph Biden his first Supreme Court opening, which he promised to fill with the historic name of the court’s first Black woman.
Breyer, 83, was a pragmatic force in a court that became increasingly conservative, trying to forge majorities with more moderate judges right and left of center.
His resignation, announced Wednesday, will give Biden the chance to name a replacement and get confirmation ahead of next fall’s election when Republicans can take over the Senate and block future nominees.
Democrats are planning a quick confirmation, perhaps even before Breyer officially retires, which is not expected before the summer.
Breyer has been a judge since 1994, appointed by then-President Bill Clinton. Together with the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he chose not to retire the last time Democrats controlled the White House and Senate during Barack Obama’s presidency.
Ginsburg died in September 2020, and then-President Donald Trump filled the vacancy with a Conservative judge, Amy Coney Barrett.
Breyer’s departure will not change the Conservatives’ 6-3 advantage in court, as his replacement will almost certainly be confirmed by a Senate where the Democrats have the narrowest majority. This will make Conservative Judge Clarence Thomas the oldest member of the court. Thomas turns 74 in June.
Chuck Schumer, leader of the Senate majority, said Biden’s nominees “will receive a speedy hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be considered and confirmed with full deliberate speed by the full U.S. Senate.”
A White House decision on a nominee could take several weeks, Biden assistants and allies said.
Republicans who changed Senate rules during the Trump era to allow the confirmation of the Supreme Court nominations by the simple majority appeared to have resigned for the result.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who was previously the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement: “If all Democrats stick together – which I expect they will – they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without a single Republican vote in support. “
Liberal interest groups have expressed relief. They asked for Breyer’s retirement, worried about confirmation problems as Republicans recaptured the Senate.
It’s time for a black woman Supreme Court justice. And we are ready to meet this moment and ensure that a reproductive freedom champion ends up on the bench.
– NARAL (@NARAL) 27 January 2022
“Justice Breyer’s retirement is not coming a moment too soon, but now we need to make sure our party stays united in support of the confirmation of his successor,” said Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice.
The NARAL Pro-Choice America group, which supports abortion rights for women, said he was looking forward to having another champion for reproductive freedom in the Supreme Court. It is an opportunity to shape the Court for decades to come. ”
Among the names circulating as potential nominees are California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, prominent civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill, and U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs, who nominated Biden to be an appeals court judge.
Childs is a favorite of South Carolina Democrat James Clyburn, who gave Biden a crucial endorsement just before the state’s presidential primary in 2020.
Biden’s promise to name the first black woman in the Supreme Court was made during the presidential campaign.
Since being appointed a little over a year ago, he has been focused on increasing racial, ethnic and experiential diversity in the lower federal courts. He has already doubled the number of black women serving in appellate courts – just below the Supreme Court – with three more nominees pending.