Aug 27, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court Justice Breyer says he's struggling to decide when to retire

Justice Stephen Breyer during a group photo at the Supreme Court in April 2021.
Justice Stephen Breyer during a group photo at the Supreme Court in April 2021. Photo: Erin Schaff/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer told the New York Times in an interview Thursday that he is struggling to decide when to retire but said, "I don't think I’m going to stay there till I die — hope not."

Why it matters: Breyer, the oldest justice at 83 years old, has faced pressure from progressives to retire and allow President Biden to name a liberal-leaning successor to prevent the potential expansion of the court's conservative majority.

While Breyer and the White House have rebuffed those calling for the justice's retirement, he told the Times that the president who will name his successor "will inevitably be in the psychology” of his retirement decision, particularly because of something the late Justice Antonin Scalia told him.

  • "He said, 'I don’t want somebody appointed who will just reverse everything I’ve done for the last 25 years,'" Breyer explained.

Yes, but: Just because justices are appointed and approved by a partisan president and Senate doesn't mean they are obligated to upholding a certain political ideology.

  • Though former President Trump selected Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett to solidify a conservative hold on the court, all three have angered conservatives through some of their rulings or by declining to hear certain cases.

What they're saying: “There are a lot of blurred things there, and there are many considerations” with retirement, Breyer said. “They form a whole. I’ll make a decision.”

  • “I don’t like making decisions about myself," he added.

Flashback: Breyer told Axios in March 2020 that he felt healthy and was not thinking about retirement at the time because "I enjoy what I'm doing."

The big picture: Breyer is coming out with a new book, “The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics,” next month, in which he discusses the nature of the court’s authority, the distinctions between law and politics and the factors that influence a justice's decision to retire, according to the Times.

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