Biden said nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court was ‘long overdue.’
President Joe Biden and Justice Stephen Breyer made a joint appearance Thursday afternoon at the White House to announce Breyer’s retirement from the Supreme Court, clearing the way for Biden to follow through on his campaign promise to nominate the first Black woman to the high court for his historic first pick.
“I’m here today to express the nation’s gratitude to Justice Stephen Breyer for his remarkable career of public service, and his clear-eyed commitment to making our country’s laws work for its people,” Biden said.
Biden praised Breyer’s career in public service, beginning in the United States Army as a teenager before he went on to serve in all three branches of government before he turned 40. He was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.
“He has patiently sought common ground and built consensus, seeking to bring the court together. I think he’s a model public servant in a time of great division in this country,” Biden said.
Turning to the vacancy Breyer will leave, Biden also reaffirmed his commitment to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, which he said was “long overdue.”
“I will nominate someone with extraordinary qualifications, charity, experience and integrity. and that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court,” he said.
Biden said it’s his intention to announce his nominee “before the end of February” after consulting with both Democratic and Republican senators.
“I have made no choice at this point,” he added.
Earlier Thursday, in a letter to the president Thursday, Breyer notified Biden of his retirement and wrote he intends to complete term and remain until a successor is confirmed, holding his seat in several blockbuster decisions that will close the term in late June.
Breyer called the job a privilege and great honor, saying “I have found the work challenging and meaningful. My relations with each of my colleagues have been warm and friendly.”
In finishing out the term — but stepping down ahead of the midterm elections — Breyer, 83, the most senior member of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing who served on the bench for 27 years, fulfills the wish of Democrats who lobbied to ensure Biden could name a successor while Democrats controlled the Senate.
With the slimmest of margins, Democrats can now pass Biden’s nominee without a single Republican vote due to a 2017 rule change under then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which lowered the threshold to break the filibuster from 60 votes to 51 votes for Supreme Court nominees. McConnell said last year that the GOP may try to block a Democratic nominee to the court if Republicans won control of the Senate in November and a vacancy occurred in 2023 or 2024.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday the chamber is prepared to move to confirm Biden’s nominee with “all deliberate speed.” Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who once served as a clerk to Breyer and was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last year with bipartisan support, is considered a top contender.
Once Biden nominates a replacement, Senate Democrats plan to not only hold a confirmation hearing swiftly — similar to Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who had her first hearing within 13 days of her nomination — but also to hold those proceedings while Breyer is still sitting on the bench, according to two Democratic aides familiar with the matter.
While the transition presents an exciting opportunity for Biden and his supporters, replacing Breyer will not change the court’s 6-3 conservative majority.