President Joe Biden announced Justice Stephen Breyer's plan to retire from the Supreme Court.
Breyer's retirement clears the way for Biden to appoint his replacement.
Breyer, 83, has served on the court for almost 28 years.
President Joe Biden on Thursday announced that Justice Stephen Breyer's planned to retire at the end of the Supreme Court term this summer.
"I'm here today to express the nation's gratitude to Justice Stephen Breyer for his remarkable career in public service and his clear-eyed commitment to making our country's laws work for its people," Biden said.
"Today, Justice Breyer announces his intention to step down from active service," he added.
Breyer, 83, is the oldest member on the nation's highest court. News about his retirement broke on Wednesday, prior to the formal announcement at the White House.
Breyer made his decision official in a Thursday letter to Biden, commenting on his decades-long tenure on the court.
"I enormously appreciate the privilege of serving as part of the federal judicial system," Breyer wrote. "I have found the work challenging and meaningful."
The forthcoming vacancy on the Supreme Court gives Biden the opportunity to fulfill his campaign pledge to nominate a Black woman to the bench, which he made clear he'll do.
"While I've been studying candidates' backgrounds and writings, I've made no decision except one: The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity, and that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court," Biden said on Thursday. "It's long overdue, in my opinion."
Names that have been floated as potential contenders include DC Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, and South Carolina federal district Judge J. Michelle Childs, who's also a Biden nominee for the DC circuit court. Biden said he planned to solicit ideas from lawmakers of both parties and consult with Vice President Kamala Harris before announcing his choice by the end of February.
Breyer's letter said he intended to step down after his successor had been nominated and confirmed. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced on Wednesday that the upper chamber would move quickly to confirm Biden's nominee.
Breyer, for his part, reflected on his career following Biden's remarks.
"This is a complicated country, more than 330 million people," he said. "It's a kind of miracle, people, when you sit there and see all those people in front of you, people that are so different in what they think, and yet they've decided to help solve their major differences under law."
Breyer also quoted President Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address," saying, "We are now engaged in a great civil war to determine whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."
Describing himself as an optimist, Breyer said he was "pretty sure" the "American experiment" would endure.
Breyer, appointed by President Bill Clinton, has served on the court for almost 28 years. A moderate liberal, Breyer has a legacy as a strong defender of healthcare and abortion rights and a fierce opponent of the death penalty.
After Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death in 2020, he entered the spotlight as the most senior member of the court's liberal wing. Breyer wrote the majority opinions for influential cases in the court's last term, including upholding the Affordable Care Act against a Republican-backed challenge and siding with a former high-school cheerleader who had been punished over a profane rant on social media.
Breyer also drew attention over the past year for reasons unrelated to his judicial review, as progressive groups demanded he leave the bench. Progressives, upset by the court's expanded 6-3 conservative majority cemented under President Donald Trump, wanted Breyer to step down so Biden could name his replacement while the Senate was still under Democratic control.
Breyer's departure ahead of this year's midterm elections brings relief to progressives, giving Biden time to appoint a successor before Republicans have a chance to flip control of the Senate and block the president's Supreme Court nominee.
Biden's role will be history-making: He presided over Breyer's 1994 Supreme Court confirmation as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now, as president, he is set to name Breyer's successor, which has never happened before, Punchbowl News reported.
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