WASHINGTON (AP) — Longtime liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring, numerous sources said Wednesday, giving President Joe Biden his first high court opening, which he has pledged to fill with the historic naming of the court’s first Black woman.
Breyer, 83, has been a pragmatic force on a court that has grown increasingly conservative, trying to forge majorities with more moderate justices right and left of center. His retirement will give Biden the chance to name and win confirmation of a replacement before next fall’s election when Republicans could retake the Senate and block future nominees.
Biden and Breyer are expected to hold an event at the White House Thursday to formally announce Breyer’s plans to retire, according to a person briefed on the planning who was not authorized to publicly discuss it in advance. Democrats are planning a swift confirmation, perhaps even before Breyer officially steps down, which is not expected before summer.
He has been a justice since 1994, appointed by President Bill Clinton. Along with the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he opted not to step down the last time the Democrats controlled the White House and the Senate during Barack Obama’s presidency. Ginsburg died in September 2020, and then-President Donald Trump filled the vacancy with a conservative justice, Amy Coney Barrett.
Breyer’s departure won’t change the 6-3 conservative advantage on the court because his replacement will almost certainly be confirmed by a Senate where Democrats have the slimmest majority. It will make conservative Justice Clarence Thomas the oldest member of the court. Thomas turns 74 in June.