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Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer Announces Retirement

Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: January 28, 2022
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Breyer announced his retirement from the post of Supreme Court Justice. (Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has officially announced his retirement. The 83-year-old, who has served the court since 1994, is the Supreme Court’s oldest member and was appointed by President Bill Clinton. Breyer is expected to retire by late June or early July. 

At an event in the White House together with President Joe Biden, Breyer acknowledged some of the challenges facing the country while announcing his retirement. Quoting several times from the Gettysburg Address, Breyer expressed hope in the “experiment” that is American democracy. “My grandchildren and their children, they’ll determine whether the experiment still works… And of course, I am an optimist, and I’m pretty sure it will,” he said.

After Breyer confirmed his retirement, Biden praised the judge, expressing “gratitude” on behalf of the nation to the Supreme Court Justice for his “remarkable” public service career and his “clear-eyed commitment” to ensuring that the country’s laws work for the people.

“His brilliance, his values, his scholarship are why Judge Breyer became Justice Breyer by an overwhelming bipartisan vote at the time… I think he’s a model public servant in a time of great division in this country.  Justice Breyer has been everything his country could have asked of him,” Biden said. He also committed to nominating a black woman to Breyer’s post. “It’s long overdue, in my view,” the president stated.

In his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden had promised that he would install a black woman to the post of Supreme Court justice should he become president. If so, it would be the first time that a black woman will hold the position. One of Biden’s leading nominees is Kentaji Brown Jackson. In a Jan. 27 tweet, Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, pointed out that Biden’s race-based appointment will be unconstitutional.

In an article written back in March 2020 during the presidential election campaign, Turley had said that “even with identity politics, the pledge to impose a gender and race requirement for the next Supreme Court nominee is as ironic as it is troubling. What Biden was declaring, and what (Bernie) Sanders wisely avoided, would effectively constitute discrimination in admission to the Supreme Court. Indeed, the Supreme Court has declared that such race or gender conditions are strictly unconstitutional for admission to public colleges.”  

Fox News host Laura Ingraham recently contrasted Biden’s promise to install a black woman in the Supreme Court against his past actions where the president repeatedly blocked black women from being appointed to the post. When President George W. Bush wanted to appoint Janice Rogers Brown, a black woman, as the Supreme Court justice in 2003 and 2005, Biden opposed it.

“She was filibustered by none other than Joe Biden. So, this idea of appointing a black woman to the judiciary, he voted three times against confirming her just to be a U.S. circuit judge. I mean, this wasn’t even to the Supreme Court. So, race and gender, they only count if you’re thought to be a committed judicial activist, judicial leftist,” Ingraham said.

Breyer’s exit will give Biden and Democrats a chance to influence the Supreme Court to their liking before the Nov. 8 congressional elections. Republicans are aiming to regain control of the Senate this time. Currently, the Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority. Republican leader Mitch McConnell has clearly stated that his party will block any nominations to the post made by Biden once the GOP is in control of the Senate.

As such, Democrats will be looking to install a new Supreme Court Justice before the elections to ensure at least three liberal individuals remain in the post. At present, Democrats can push their nominee to the post of Supreme Court Justice as the Senate is split 50-50 between the two parties. In case of a tie, Democrat Vice President Kamala Harris will cast the deciding vote in her party’s favor.