On January 26th, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced his decision to step down from his position after 27 years on the court. Breyer was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1994, following the retirement of Byron White. He is now 84 years old.
Breyer had an impressive legal career, holding a position on the faculty of Harvard Law while still being involved in major cases such as the Watergate Special Prosecution Force. During his time on the Supreme Court, he became known for his pragmatic approach to choosing sides in verdicts and carefully considering the impact his decisions would have on those whom they affected.
Justice Breyer’s decision to retire came with urging from liberal activists who hoped his replacement would fall under the presidency of Joe Biden. Since it is a presidential duty to choose a nominee for a new Justice, Breyer’s timely retirement would allow him to be replaced with another left-leaning Justice in order to maintain the liberal influence on the court. Further, Joe Biden declared through the course of his campaign that if he was given the opportunity, he would appoint a black woman as the new Justice. With Breyer’s position open, Biden has the chance to follow through on this promise, which would be monumental in leading to the first black woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court.
The appointment of a new Justice under a Democratic president is especially important to Democrats following the previous nomination of Amy Coney Barrett in September of 2020, after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Ginsberg was just the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court and was a pioneer in women’s rights. She overcame barriers due to her gender and made history in arguing for decisions such as same-sex marriage, and used her power to dissent court decisions she felt were wrong. Following her death, it was the duty of President Donald Trump to appoint her replacement. His decision in choosing Amy Coney Barrett was very controversial, as her Conservative-Catholic viewpoints seemed to undermine everything Ruth Bader Ginsberg had fought for in her lifetime. This decision further motivated Democrats to nominate a new candidate to the Court to counteract this.
President Biden has announced that he plans to select his pick for Breyer’s replacement by the end of February. He has also confirmed that he will uphold his promise and nominate the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. On February 8th, Senior advisors at the White House announced that they have begun reaching out to potential candidates. Some of these include DC Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, and South Carolina US District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs.