Justice Stephen Breyer to Retire From Supreme Court
WASHINGTON — Justice Stephen Breyer, a pragmatic liberal who has served on the Supreme Court for nearly 28 years, is expected to inform the White House today that he plans to step down at the end of this term.
Pete Williams of NBC News was the first to report Breyer’s pending announcement, citing people familiar with the matter.
The Well News reached out to the court’s public information office, but has yet to independently confirm Breyer’s retirement announcement is forthcoming.
Breyer is one of the three remaining liberal justices on the high court, and his decision to retire now, despite his apparent good health and mental acumen, will allow President Joe Biden to appoint a like-minded successor who could maintain the current 6-3 split between conservative and liberal justices.
Appointed by President Bill Clinton, Breyer came to the Supreme Court in 1994 and became one of the court’s moderate-to-liberal members. Breyer himself objected to such terms, feeling they politicized the business of the court — or at least led to that perception.
His most recent book, published in September 2021, is entitled, “The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics.”
Amy Howe, of Scotusblog, described it this way: “Based on a lecture that he had given at Harvard earlier in the year, Breyer emphasized in the book that the Supreme Court’s authority comes from the public’s willingness to respect and follow the court’s decisions, even when it disagrees with them. If the public regards the court and its decisions as political, Breyer stressed, it will be less likely to adhere to that authority.”
He has said in the past that he’s always believed the Constitution should be interpreted based on practical considerations. One of his most famous quotes, paraphrased here, is that law exists at all because a community of people have arrived at a problem they are trying to solve.
His judicial philosophy put him at odds with conservative colleagues past and present, from the late Antonin Scalia to Clarence Thomas, who maintain justices must be guided solely by the original intent of the founders.
Among the likely contenders as Breyer’s replacement is U.S. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. A Biden nominee, she was confirmed by the Senate in mid-June 2021.
A former Breyer law clerk, Jackson succeeded Merrick Garland on the bench in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia after he left to become attorney general.
Among the first public officials to comment on Breyer’s potential retirement was Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who applauded Breyer’s service to the nation and described him as “a scholar and a gentleman whose record on the Supreme Court is solidly in the liberal camp.”
“Justice Breyer has always shown great respect for the institution and his colleagues, and I wish him well in the next phase of his life,” Graham continued. “As to his replacement: If all Democrats hang together – which I expect they will – they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without one Republican vote in support.
“Elections have consequences, and that is most evident when it comes to fulfilling vacancies on the Supreme Court,” the senator said.