Stephen Breyer: Who is the liberal Supreme Court justice set to retire?

The Bill Clinton appointee is the oldest judge in US Supreme Court

Biden speaks to journalists as Justice Breyer set to retire

Liberal US Supreme Court judge Stephen Breyer is expected to announce his retirement on Thursday, paving the way for president Joe Biden to shape the court for the first time and fulfil his campaign promise of nominating a Black woman to the country’s highest federal court.

Mr Breyer, 83, is the oldest judge in the Supreme Court and is one of the three Democrat appointees to the court. The other two are Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The six Republican appointees, who hold the majority in the court, include John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

The last vacancy was filled by Ms Barrett, who was appointed by former president Donald Trump in 2020 after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Mr Breyer will end a nearly three-decade long run in the Supreme Court, which included more than 500 opinions on a range of subjects such as death penalty, abortion LGBTQ rights and affirmative action.

The San Francisco native studied at Stanford, Oxford and Harvard universities, and also taught law at the latter. He worked in the Senate as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1979 to 1980. In 1980, he was appointed to the first US Circuit Court of Appeals by then president Jimmy Carter.

File photo: Supreme Court judges Ruth Bader Ginsburg (left) and Stephen Breyer in the White House in February 2006. Justice Ginsburg, considered a liberal stalwart, died in September 2020

In 1994, he was elevated to the Supreme Court by president Bill Clinton. Mr Breyer replaced Justice Harry Blackmun in the country’s highest court.

Earlier this year, Mr Breyer along with his liberal colleagues, Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, dissented against the court’s majority decision to block the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for larger organisations.

In 2021, he dissented when the court allowed a law keeping in place a six-week abortion ban in Texas. Earlier that year, he authored a ruling rejecting a Republican bid to invalidate Obamacare. The ruling preserved the healthcare law formally called the Affordable Care Act for the third time since its enactment in 2010.

In 2016 and 2020, his rulings struck down restrictions on abortion clinics in Texas and Louisiana. In 2015, he was part of the majority ruling that legalised gay marriage.

He is also a fierce opponent of the death penalty. In 2015, the judge had said that it was “highly likely” that the death penalty was unconstitutional.

Mr Breyer was known for his diverse views and said that the court is not a part of the political branches of government, and should take views that may be deemed unpopular. “It is wrong to think of the court as another political institution,” he said in a speech at Harvard Law School in 2021.

“It is doubly wrong to think of its members as junior league politicians. If the public sees judges as ‘politicians in robes’, its confidence in the courts, and in the rule of law itself, can only diminish, diminishing the court’s power, including its power to act as a ‘check’ on the other branches,” he had said.

While his retirement will not tilt the conservative majority of the Supreme Court, the Biden administration is looking to bring in a younger judge ahead of midterm elections due in November.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in