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Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring

Raymond Baccari

News Editor

Graphic by Emily Brennan

Recent months have shown 2022 is the year of retirements in the world of politics. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring from the Supreme Court after over two decades. This allows President Joe Biden to select his first Supreme Court Justice of his presidency. Currently, the Supreme Court leans conservative with a 6-3 majority, making this selection important for Democrats.

Picking a judge for the Supreme Court has become a hot-button issue throughout the last few nominations. Breyer’s retirement followed months of pressure to retire from Democrats while the party has a trifecta: control of the House, Senate and presidency.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) plans to quickly confirm whoever Biden nominates “with all deliberate speed.” Biden’s fellow Democrats are asking him to follow through on his campaign pledge to nominate a Black woman for his first Supreme Court pick. There are a few names on the shortlist to succeed Breyer:

  • D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

  • California Associate Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger.

  • South Carolina District Court Judge Julianna Michelle Childs.

  • Federal District Court Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner, sister of Georgia Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

The current balance of the Senate is 50-50, making this nomination process one all political observers will have their eyes on. Biden’s nominee is likely to pass along party lines in the Senate. The process puts a spotlight on key Senators' votes like Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). During the vote, the key number for Biden and Senate Democrats will be 50 votes. This would allow Vice President Kamala Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote, confirming Biden’s nominee.

Republicans in the Senate plan to campaign on the selection as the Democrats did with President Trump’s Supreme Court nominees. Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who is the National Republican Senatorial Conference chairman, said in a statement that, “The Democrats know they will lose the Senate majority in 2022. I predict that Chuck Schumer and whoever is running the White House will force all Democrats to obey and walk the plank in support of a radical liberal with extremist views."

Locally, Rhode Island U.S. Senator Jack Reed is optimistic about what Breyer’s retirement brings for the future of the court.

“Justice Breyer has been a key voice on the court and has written many thoughtful, even-handed decisions. The Supreme Court has lost its way in the wake of President Trump’s appointments. A single new Justice won’t change that, but it offers a chance for President Biden to choose a fair, impartial jurist who will uphold civil rights and liberties and is committed to equal justice for all,” Reed said.

Rhode Island’s junior Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, like Reed, thanked Breyer for his service, but highlighted the battle ahead. “I thank Justice Breyer for his dedication to the law and service to the American people, and wish him well in his retirement. Throughout his distinguished career on the Court, Justice Breyer applied his remarkable intellect to safeguard justice and equality under law.”

Whitehouse added, “The right-wing donors who stocked the Court with its 6-3 supermajority will deploy massive dark-money firepower to try and defeat Biden's nominee. I hope the White House & our allies are prepared for the fight. We cannot allow donor interests to tighten their grip on the Court.”

All things considered, the process to confirm Biden’s nominee is expected to be closely-watched by both sides of the political aisle.



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