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Justice Stephen Breyer retire an influential liberal on the Supreme Court, Biden pick successor

Justice Stephen Breyer
Justice Stephen Breyer

Justice Stephen Breyer will step down from the Supreme Court at the end of the current term, according to people familiar with his thinking.

President Joe Biden and Breyer are scheduled to appear together at the White House Thursday as the Supreme Court justice is set to announce his retirement, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to NBC News.

Breyer is one of the three remaining liberal justices, and his decision to retire after more than 27 years on the court allows Biden to appoint a successor who could serve for decades and, in the short term, maintain the current 6-3 split between conservative and liberal justices.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring after serving more than two decades on the nation’s highest court, Supreme Court and Biden administration sources tell NPR. Breyer is expected to make the announcement at the White House on Thursday. Breyer — professorial, practical and moderately liberal — wrote many of the court’s legally important but less glamorous decisions and sought, behind the scenes, to build consensus for centrist decisions on a conservative court.

Breyer’s retirement gives President Biden his first opportunity to name a new justice to the court. During the 2020 campaign, he pledged to name a Black woman if he got the chance. The two leading contenders are said to be federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was on President Barack Obama’s shortlist for the court in 2016, and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, who served as assistant and then deputy solicitor general in both Democratic and Republican administrations prior to her nomination to California’s highest court.

Both women are young, in terms of Supreme Court appointment. Jackson is 51 and Kruger is 45. And both have stellar legal credentials.

Breyer’s decision to retire is a relief to liberal Democrats after seeing Republicans push through three nominees from President Donald Trump using some unprecedented tactics. Indeed, last year, some liberal groups publicly pressed Breyer to retire, even demonstrating in front of the Supreme Court. The justice, however demurred. In an interview with NPR, he said that the decision on when to retire “has many complex parts to it. I think I am aware of most of them and will consider them.”

His decision to remain for another year was likely due in large part to the major issues the court was about to confront — abortion, guns, separation of church and state, and potentially affirmative action. These are all matters that he has strong feelings about, and he thought that his 27 years on the court might enable him to prevent a wild swing to the right. In the 2020 term, he had played just that role.

But this term, when compromise seemed to elude even his skilled hand, the 83-year-old justice decided it was time to step down. As he put it in an NPR interview in September that he does “not want to stay on the Supreme Court until I die.”

Justice Stephen Breyer

The court’s term ends this summer, and it’s expected he’ll retire then

Democrats and Republicans each hold 50 seats in the Senate, but Democrats are in the majority through the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. Democrats risk losing the Senate in November’s midterm elections, however, giving greater urgency to the process of confirming Breyer’s successor. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praised Breyer’s judicial record in a statement and said the Senate will confirm Biden’s eventual nominee “with all deliberate speed.”

“For virtually his entire adult life, including a quarter century on the US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer has served his country with the highest possible distinction,” Schumer said. “He is, and always has been, a model jurist.”He embodies the best qualities and highest ideals of American justice: knowledge, wisdom, fairness, humility, restraint.”

Among the leading candidates to replace Breyer are Ketanji Brown Jackson, a US Court of Appeals judge, and Leondra Kruger of the California Supreme Court.Breyer is the oldest justice on the court and was nominated in 1994 by Democratic former president Bill Clinton.Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump nominated three justices to the court, sealing the 6-3 right-leaning majority.

Breyer is the senior member of the court’s liberal wing and has carved out a legacy of pragmatism in the hundreds of opinions he authored in his long career. The justice, who carries an annotated copy of the Constitution in his jacket pocket, has been a fierce opponent of the death penalty, and ruled in favor of abortion rights, same-sex marriage and environmental protection.

Justice Stephen Breyer

Justice Stephen Breyer ‘They take the oath to heart’

Born on August 15, 1938 in San Francisco, Breyer was educated at the prestigious universities of Stanford, Oxford and Harvard.He began his legal career in 1964 as a clerk to then-Supreme Court justice Arthur Goldberg. He went on to work in the Justice Department on antitrust matters before serving as an assistant special prosecutor on Watergate in 1973.

He taught at Harvard until 1980, when he got the nod from then-president Jimmy Carter to serve on the federal court of appeals in Boston, where he remained for more than a decade, eventually becoming its chief judge.Breyer was initially considered for a Supreme Court spot in 1993, but his candidacy was marred by a revelation that he had failed to pay taxes for a part-time housekeeper.

A year later, he became Clinton’s second nominee to the high court, after Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The pair would end up shoring up the liberal-progressive wing of the court for more than two decades.Ginsburg died at the age of 87 while still serving on the court, allowing Trump to make his third nomination. Breyer insisted in his rulings on assessing the real-world implications when deciding cases, rejecting the strict reading of the Constitution favored by some of his peers.

He bristled at the notion of partisanship on the court. “My experience of more than 30 years as a judge has shown me that, once men and women take the judicial oath, they take the oath to heart,” he said in a 2021 lecture at Harvard Law School, his alma mater.

News Source – BBC


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