The senior most justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer, a moderate liberal, is expected to announce his retirement, making way for U.S. President Joe Biden to nominate another justice in his place. The court is split 6-3 between conservatives and liberals, with the opening allowing Democrats to appoint someone, who could serve decades on the court.
“I will select a nominee worthy of Justice Breyer’s legacy of excellence and decency,” Mr. Biden told reporters at the White House, with Mr. Breyer standing beside him. “ While I’ve been studying candidates’ backgrounds and writings, I’ve made no decisions except one: the person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity. And that person will be the first black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court.”
Mr. Biden said that he intends to have a name by the end of February.
Democrats are looking to fill the vacancy as soon as Mr. Breyer steps down this summer — and while they still have control over the evenly split Senate, with Vice-President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote.
Supreme Court justices are given lifetime appointments and sometimes die in office, as was the case with liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in 2020
“If all Democrats hang together — which I expect they will — they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without one Republican vote in support,” Senator Lindsey Graham, the previous chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee (the body that confirms nominations), said on Twitter.
Mr. Biden said would not only get the consent of the Senate but also its advice, adding that he was “fortunate” to have the help of Vice President Kamala Harris, a former attorney general. Earlier, her name was also in the news as a potential candidate.
Frontrunners for Mr. Breyer’s replacement include Ketanji Brown Jackson, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, California Supreme Court (i.e. the highest state court) Justice Leondra Kruger, U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs and civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill.
Justice Breyer was appointed to the Court in 1994 by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. During his career he has questioned the constitutionality of the death penalty, supported healthcare coverage and strengthened abortion rights. He is also known for his ability to reach a compromise and has a reputation for being a pragmatist.