Beyond the Dome: Supreme Court Justice Breyer to retire
This past Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer submitted a letter to President Biden announcing his intent to retire within the next few months.
Breyer has been on the Supreme Court for almost 30 years, after being appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Ironically, besides President Clinton, perhaps the most important person for Justice Breyer’s confirmation was then-Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Joe Biden, whose position involves approving court appointees and sending them to the whole Senate for a full vote. Decades later, Biden will now be the one to name his replacement.
Throughout his career, Breyer has been a reliable liberal vote on the Court. He has written over 500 Court opinions, including last summer’s California v. Texas which was heralded by some legislators as a ruling that preserved Obamacare.
Breyer is now 83 years old. This, in addition to his liberal leanings, has put extra pressure on him to retire, which would allow a Democratic president and Democratic Congress to appoint his replacement. In retiring now, the path is clear for Democrats to nominate another liberal to the Court, ending the conservative trend of the Court since President Trump’s nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Still, a liberal replacement for Breyer will not change the Court’s complexion: it will continue to have a 6–3 conservative majority, assuming Biden’s choice is confirmed by Congress.
The Senate confirmation will come on the heels of a very public Senatorial stalemate over voting rights, with Democrats failing to overturn the filibuster in order to pass voting rights legislation. Supreme Court nominations, however, are not able to be filibustered, so it is expected to be an easier Senate fight than other Democratic ventures. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the Senate will move to confirm Biden’s nomination “as soon as possible.”
President Biden has said that he will follow through on his promise to nominate a Black woman to the Court, which would be a first. Additionally, Biden will likely nominate a judge who is young, meaning that this nominee may end up serving on the Court and influencing public policy for decades.