Stephen Breyer, a liberal member of the US Supreme Court, plans to retire this year, according to US media, a move that will be a political test for US President Joe Biden as he seeks to install a progressive replacement. .
Breyer, 83, is expected to step down when the court’s current term ends in June. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, said Breyer “is, and always has been, a model jurist,” and promised that Biden’s nominee “will receive a speedy hearing on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will be considered and confirmed by the entire Senate of the United States with all deliberate speed”.
Asked about news at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, Biden told reporters, “There has been no announcement from Judge Breyer. Let him make whatever statement he wants to make, and I’ll be happy to talk about it later.
The oldest member of the Supreme Court has come under increasing pressure in recent months to step down so that Biden can nominate a young liberal to take his seat for life on America’s highest court. There is no term limit for Justices of the United States Supreme Court.
Breyer and his former colleague Ruth Bader Ginsburg were first called upon to resign in 2011, when Randall Kennedy, a Harvard Law School professor, argued in a controversial essay for The New Republic that the two justices should stand down for allow the then Democratic President, Barack Obama, to choose their successors.
Ginsburg died in 2020 at the age of 87, just months before the end of Donald Trump’s presidency. He took his seat ahead of the November presidential election with Amy Coney Barrett, cementing a 6-3 conservative majority on the court bench.
Breyer, who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, has served on the court for nearly three decades.
Supreme Court justices are chosen by the presidents but must be confirmed by a simple majority in the Senate. The confirmation process, which includes a series of public hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, has become one of the most politically charged events in Congress.
While presidential nominations have in the past received broad bipartisan support, that has changed in recent years. The Senate voted 52 to 48 to confirm Barrett, with Susan Collins the only Republican to vote against her confirmation and no Democrats supporting the pick.
Another Trump pick, Brett Kavanaugh, has also been mired in controversy amid sexual harassment allegations dating back to his teenage years that loomed over his confirmation hearing. He was ultimately confirmed in a 50-48 Senate vote, with Joe Manchin as the only Democrat supporting his nomination.
As a presidential candidate, Biden pledged to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court bench in the event of a vacancy during his term. Only two black justices — Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas — have served on the Supreme Court in its history, and only five women have served as justices.
The White House declined to confirm information about Breyer’s retirement on Wednesday. But White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a brief statement on Twitter“It has always been the decision of any Supreme Court justice if and when they decide to retire, and how they want to announce it.”
Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised Breyer as a “trusted voice from the bench with a top-notch legal mind” and said he looked forward to to “quickly transfer the president’s candidate” to the committee.
Lindsey Graham, a senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called Breyer “a scholar and a gentleman,” but indicated no intention of supporting a Biden nominee.
“If all Democrats stick together — which I think they will — they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without a single Republican vote in favor,” Graham said. “Elections have consequences, and that’s especially evident when it comes to filling vacancies on the Supreme Court.”
NBC News first reported on Breyer’s retirement. The Supreme Court did not immediately return a request for comment.