January 27, 2022
Justice Stephen Breyer will step down from the Supreme Court at the end of the current term, according to people familiar with his thinking. The liberal justice’s decision to retire after more than 27 years on the court allows President Joe Biden to appoint a successor who could serve for several decades, reports NBC News.
Breyer is one of the three remaining liberal justices, and, in the short term, his retirement would maintain the current 6-3 split between conservative and liberal justices.
At 83, Breyer is the court’s oldest member. Liberal activists have urged him for months to retire while Democrats hold both the White House and the Senate. They contended that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stayed too long despite her history of health problems and should have stepped down during the Obama Administration.
Ginsburg’s death from cancer at 87 allowed former President Donald Trump to appoint her successor, Amy Coney Barrett—moving the court further to the right.
Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in May urging Breyer to retire that there are times “when the stewards of our system must put the good of an institution they love, and of the country they love, above their own interests. They have to recognize that no one, not even a brilliant justice, is irreplaceable, and that the risks presented by remaining are more than hypothetical.”
The progressive group Demand Justice, meanwhile, hired a truck last year to drive around the Supreme Court’s neighborhood bearing this sign: “Breyer Retire. It’s time for a Black woman Supreme Court justice.”
Biden has pledged to make just such an appointment. Among likely contenders are federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former Breyer law clerk; and Leondra Kruger, a justice on California’s Supreme Court.
Despite calls from some Biden supporters to add more seats to the Supreme Court to counter its current conservative lean, Breyer said in March that such a move would risk undermining confidence in the court. Advocates of court packing, he said, should “think long and hard before embodying those changes in law.”
Biden is expected to act quickly to nominate a successor who can be ready to serve when the court’s new term begins on October 3. A former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he knows firsthand how the confirmation process works.
Research contact: @NBCNews