Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to retire: Reports

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will retire, multiple news outlets reported Wednesday.

The exact timing of his retirement was not immediately clear. Both NBC and CNN reported that Breyer will step down at the end of this term, in June. The next Supreme Court term begins on Oct. 3.

Breyer was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1994. The 83-year-old is the oldest member of the high court, and a leading liberal justice. Conservatives currently hold a 6-3 majority on the bench.

Breyer's retirement will give President Biden his first chance to nominate a Supreme Court justice. (Biden presided over Breyer’s confirmation as Senate Judiciary chair in 1994.)

During the 2020 campaign, Biden pledged to nominate the first Black woman to the high court when a vacancy arises.

Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor pose wearing black robes in front of a red curtain.
From back row, Brett Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., April 23, 2021. (Erin Schaff/Pool via Reuters)

Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals last June, is widely seen as one of Biden’s top candidates for the Supreme Court. Associate Justice Leondra Kruger is also frequently mentioned as a contender.

Speaking to reporters before a meeting with business executives at the White House, Biden declined to comment on reports that Breyer will retire from the Supreme Court.

"There have been no announcements from Justice Breyer,” Biden said, adding: "Let him make whatever statement he's going to make, and I'll be happy to talk about it later."

In a tweet, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, "It has always been the decision of any Supreme Court Justice if and when they decide to retire, and how they want to announce it, and that remains the case today. We have no additional details or information to share."

[Ketanji Brown Jackson, Leondra Kruger are seen as leading contenders to replace Breyer]

At her daily press briefing, Psaki said that Biden stands by his pledge of nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said whoever Biden's nominee is will "receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed."

A simple majority is needed to confirm any Supreme Court nominee in the Senate, which is currently split 50-50 between the two parties. (Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote.)

Schumer also praised Breyer for being what he called a "model jurist."

"He embodies the best qualities and highest ideals of American justice: knowledge, wisdom, fairness, humility, restraint," Schumer said. "His work and his decisions as an Associate Justice on the biggest issues of our time — including voting rights, the environment, women's reproductive freedom, and most recently, health care and the Affordable Care Act — were hugely consequential. America owes Justice Breyer an enormous debt of gratitude."

Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.
Associate Justice Stephen Breyer poses during a group photoshoot at the Supreme Court on April 23, 2021. (Erin Schaff/Pool via Reuters)

For months, progressive activists had called for Breyer to retire while Democrats hold both the White House and the Senate — which could change after the midterm elections, in November.

"The stewards of our system must put the good of an institution they love, and of the country they love, above their own interests," Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in May. "They have to recognize that no one, not even a brilliant justice, is irreplaceable, and that the risks presented by remaining are more than hypothetical."

In 2020, 87-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, allowing former President Donald Trump to appoint her successor, Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, moving the court further to the right.

At an event in Washington, D.C., in October, Breyer acknowledged the pressure surrounding his possible retirement and said he would decide "when the proper time is."

He added: "I hope I don't die on the Supreme Court."