According to the Associated Press, veteran liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will retire, numerous sources said Wednesday, giving President Biden the chance to fill his first vacancy on the court, which currently has a conservative majority.
The retirement of 83-year-old Justice Breyer, who has been on the high court since 1994, is President Biden’s first chance to begin tipping the scales on issues where conservative justices hold firm. Especially the critical items on the Democratic political agenda, such as abortion and gun rights, ahead of the next election when Republicans could win back the Senate and truncate the possibility of new nominations.
Former President Donald Trump nominated three Justices to the Supreme Court during his four years in office—the last in 2020 was Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Coney Barratt’s appointment made the already conservative court more conservative, achieving the majority of 6 to 3.
Now Democrats are planning an early confirmation and plan to move quickly to replace the judge. They criticized Trump’s quick nomination of Judge Barrett, claiming that most confirmations had taken much longer and that it was a strategy to block the nomination in case Tump lost re-election.
The nomination is even planned before there is a formal vacancy, as Breyer is not expected to officially resign before June, when his term ends.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer confirmed this when he said Biden’s nominee to replace Breyer “will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed.”
Although Biden said Wednesday that he doesn’t plan to pre-empt Breyer’s announcement, and that each justice should decide what he or she is going to do and announce it on his or her own. “Let him make whatever statement he’s going to make, and I’ll be happy to talk about it later,” he stated.
This nomination further opens the possibility for Biden to make good on what he said on the campaign trail, that he would put a black woman on the court to make history. President Biden has three solid female nominees to choose from, sources who remained anonymous told AP.
The top candidate would be Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was a Breyer law clerk early in her career and was confirmed last year to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The second nominee is J. Michelle Childs, and the third is California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger.
This will be the first time in 11 years that Democrats have had a chance to fill a Supreme Court vacancy since Justice Elena Kagen was confirmed in 2010.
Senators from both sides made references to the confirmation of the high court nominee.
Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas expressed, “Whoever the president nominates will be treated fairly and with the dignity and respect someone of his or her caliber deserves, something not afforded to Justice Kavanaugh and other Republican nominees in the past.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said, “The Court should reflect the diversity of our country, and it is unacceptable that we have never in our nation’s history had a Black woman sit on the Supreme Court of the United States—I want to change that.”
Meanwhile, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky declined to speak before an official announcement of Breyer’s retirement was made. “He’s entitled to do that whenever he chooses,” McConnell said. “And when he does that, I’ll have a response to his long and distinguished career,” according to the AP.