Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest Supreme Court justice and the oldest one in the liberal wing at age 83, made it official Thursday. He’s retiring.
Justice Breyer told President Joe Biden of his decision in a letter dated Jan. 27. The justice wrote that he wants to stay on the bench until his successor is confirmed.
News of the retirement was leaked Wednesday and appeared in national media reports.
Justice Breyer’s retirement sets the stage for President Joe Biden to keep a campaign promise to nominate the court’s first black woman.
It also sets the stage for a debate in the Senate with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats (technically it’s 48 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats). If there’s a tie, Vice President Kamala Harris would break it and no doubt vote for the nominee.
Liberals encouraged Justice Breyer to retire while the Democrats still had control of the Senate ahead of this fall’s midterms. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, promised a quick and fair process in reviewing whomever President Biden nominates.
At a White House event Thursday, President Biden announced Justice Breyer was retiring and confirmed that he would nominate a black woman to succeed him.
He said he hasn’t selected that individual yet, but noted she would be “worthy of Justice Breyer’s legacy of excellence” and be “someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity.”
President Biden said he expects to choose a nominee by the end of February.
Washington observers have said the president’s list of possible nominees could include D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger and South Carolina District Judge J. Michelle Childs.
President Biden called Justice Breyer’s retirement “bittersweet.” In 1994, Mr. Biden chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held Mr. Breyer’s confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court position.