Jan 27, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Stephen Breyer formally announces retirement from Supreme Court

Stephen Breyer looks on as President Biden speaks at the White House
Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

Justice Stephen Breyer on Thursday sent a letter to President Biden formally announcing his retirement from the Supreme Court.

State of play: Breyer said his retirement will take effect when the court "rises for the summer recess (typically late June or early July) assuming that by then my successor has been nominated and confirmed."

  • Biden announced Thursday that his nominee will "be the first black woman ever nominated to United States Supreme Court," adding that he will reveal his nominee before the end of February.

What he's saying: "I enormously appreciate the privilege of serving as part of the federal judicial system ... I have found the work challenging and meaningful," Breyer wrote in his letter.

  • "My relations with each of my colleagues have been warm and friendly. Throughout, I have been aware of the great honor of participating as a judge in the effort to maintain our Constitution and the rule of law."

Biden recognized Breyer's retirement saying that it was a "bittersweet day" for him, adding that "Justice Breyer and I go back a long way."

  • "In 1994, I got to preside as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, over [Breyer's] Supreme Court confirmation hearings ... I was proud and grateful to be there at the start of his distinguished career in the Supreme Court. And I'm very proud to be here today"
  • "I will select a nominee worthy of Justice Breyer's legacy of excellence and decency."

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Glen Johnson: Breyer used the occasion not to deliver thanks to the president but to send a message to the country.

  • At a time of bitter political divisions, he harkened back to Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address and its message about the battle to preserve our Union.
  • Breyer said it will be up to generations succeeding him to ensure that happens — and he was optimistic it would.

Driving the news: Breyer's announcement sets up a battle to confirm Biden's first — and maybe only — Supreme Court opening.

The big picture: Biden's Supreme Court nomination will be one of the longest-lasting pieces of his legacy and could motivate Democrats ahead of this year's midterms.

  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday vowed to confirm President Biden's nominated replacement "with all deliberate speed."

Between the lines: While Biden did not announce his choice to succeed Breyer, there's already speculation around who the president's nominee will be.

  • Biden pledged during the 2020 campaign to make a Black woman his first Supreme Court nominee.
  • Early speculation has focused on two highly accomplished Black female judges: D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, Axios' Sam Baker writes.

Go deeper: The front-runners for Biden's Supreme Court pick

Read Breyer's letter:

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