Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, is retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court, NBC News reported today. CNN reports that he is expected to formally announce his retirement at a White House event with President Biden as early as Thursday.
Citing “people familiar with his thinking,” the report emphasizes that Breyer’s retirement now would allow President Biden to nominate his replacement, presumably replacing him with another judge with a liberal judicial philosophy.
Born in 1938, Breyer is currently the oldest justice on the court. He was nominated as an Associate Justice by President Bill Clinton and has served since 1994. He replaced the retiring Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of the court’s infamous 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
Breyer is a graduate of Harvard Law School and was also a law professor there. He’s also received two Bachelor of Arts degrees: one from Magdalen College, Oxford, and one from Stanford University. His professional life included stints as special assistant to the U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust; as assistant special prosecutor on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force in 1973; and as a judge on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals from 1980 to 1994.
He is married with three adult children.
Breyer has been a very consistent part of the liberal wing of the Supreme Court, which now includes, in addition to Breyer, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Calls for his resignation by liberals began last year when President Biden was inaugurated, not because they were upset by his rulings, but because they wanted Biden to name a younger liberal to replace him.
When interviewed by The New York Times in August 2021, Breyer said he would likely retire before his death, citing various factors he would consider, including something the late Justice Antonin Scalia told him about the timing of retirement: “ I don’t want somebody appointed who will just reverse everything I’ve done for the last 25 years.”
President Biden promised during his election campaign to appoint the first African American woman to the Supreme Court, should any seats open. Three possible names that have been floated as potential nominees to the high court, ever since Biden appointed them to the federal courts last year, include: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi from the 7th Circuit; and Judge Tiffany Cunningham from the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.
The news reports about Breyer’s retirement do not include details concerning the timing, but his retirement is almost certainly not immediate. It is likely that he will finish up the current term of the court, which ends in June, before officially exiting the court. In the meantime, however, President Biden could begin the process of selecting a new nominee.
We’ll keep you apprised of developments in this continuing story.
Photo from Reuters.