Setting off a high-stakes political drama in Washington long-serving Supreme Court Judge Stephen Breyer will announce today his retirement at the end of this term, Summer 2022.
At 83, Breyer is the oldest member of the high court. Now having served for 27 years, he was appointed by President Clinton in 1994. With the exception of conservative stalwart Judge Clarence Thomas, who was appointed by President Bush Sr., Breyer is the longest-sitting member of the high court.
Harkening back to an age with less hyper-partisanship that seems almost unbelievable now, Breyer was confirmed by the Senate in an 87-9 vote, one of the last of such appointments with fewer than 10 dissenting votes. At that time, then-Senator Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversaw the confirmation hearings.
A consistent liberal, pro-abortion vote on the high court, many Democrats have been hoping and even calling on Breyer to retire while President Biden still occupies the White House and Vice President Harris wields the crucial tie-breaking vote in a divided 50-50 Senate.
With polling evidence and Biden’s plummeting popularity indicating a potential GOP sweep this November, many pundits see this as a crucial time for the Democrats to appoint and confirm a new judge while they still (narrowly) control the Senate.
According to the Constitution, it is the responsibility of the president to name new judges and the Senate must approve them. Currently, it takes a simple majority vote to do that.
Getting to the required 51 Democrat votes will require the approval of Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), both of whom have been vilified for months by members of their own party for their opposition to the “Build Back Better” bill and some other parts of President Biden’s left-wing agenda.
Breyer, along with Judges Kagan and Sotomayor, form the consistent liberal block of 3. Replacing him with a new liberal judge will not change the approximately 6-3 split on the court, but replacing the octogenarian with a younger person has the potential to keep that crucial seat in liberal hands for decades to come.
As in the case of naming a vice presidential running mate, then-candidate Biden promised to replace any retiring Supreme Court judge with a black woman. Some Washington rumors indicate that the president may seek to move Kamala Harris from the vice presidency to the high court, where she could serve a life term. However, that would require her to leave her current position and thus give up her crucial tie-breaking power in the Senate she currently enjoys.
Furthermore, her own low popularity could make a confirmation vote more difficult.
Virginia’s two Democrat US Senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, are expected to vote to confirm whomever President Biden appoints to that powerful position.
– Scott Dreyer