Breyer retires, leaving seat vacant

Biden promises to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court to fill seat

By Andrew Zerman, Staff Writer

Stephen Breyer, a liberal judge on the Supreme Court, announced his retirement from the Supreme Court last week. Biden has received mixed responses for his promise to appoint a Black woman to Breyer’s vacant seat. 

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement last week, concluding nearly three decades of service on the nation’s highest court. His vacancy gives President Joe Biden a chance to appoint his first Supreme Court Justice. Biden was promised to appoint a Black woman to the court.

Breyer, 83, is the oldest member of the Supreme Court. He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1994 by former-president Bill Clinton. 

Breyer is considered a Liberal member of the court but dislikes being labeled as such, stating he believes that judges should not let political affiliations influence how they interpret texts. 

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A Martin-Quinn score analysis conducted by Axios, which ranks justices on the basis of their partisanship, lists Breyer as the fourth-most partisan judge. He trails Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor.

The current makeup of the Supreme Court features six justices who were appointed by Republican presidents and three appointed by Democratic presidents. 

Late Supreme Court Justice and longtime friend of Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, passed away in September 2020, prompting former President Donald Trump to solidify a 6-3 conservative supermajority before his term ended. 

Breyer has faced pressure from Democrats to retire during Biden’s presidency and the Democratic majority in the Senate. His retirement during the Biden presidency could avoid a potential 7-2 Conservative Supreme Court majority in the future.

“He thought he should take into account the fact that this was an opportunity for a Democratic president — and he was appointed by a Democratic president — to fill his position with someone who is like-minded,” the justice’s brother, Charles Breyer, said. 

Biden announced his plan to nominate a justice by the end of February, giving the administration a month to make the decision for Breyer’s replacement. 

Biden vowed while campaigning that if he had a Supreme Court vacancy, he would nominate a Black woman, which would be a historic first. This move has sparked a mix of criticism and support. 

“He should not be choosing a Supreme Court Justice on the color of their skin or sex, but rather on their qualifications and commitment to uphold our constitution,” former U.S. Rep.  Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, said. 

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., defended Biden by arguing that Presidents Ronald Reagan and Trump also aimed to advocate for women on the court.

“This is not the first time that a president has signaled what they are looking for in a nominee,” he said.

Once a nomination is announced by the president, hearings will be held for that candidate. A 51-vote majority in the Senate is required for the justice to be confirmed. The Senate is currently split 50-50 along party lines, and Vice President Kamala Harris will cast the 101st vote in the event of a tie.