Update (1515ET): Some more updates on Justice Breyer's plans to retire: one Washington reporter claims that "multiple sources" have told her that Breyer wasn't planning on announcing his retirement today. Now he's "upset" with how the whole thing has played out. That being said, he has reportedly made up his mind about retirement.
Multiple sources tell me Justice Breyer was not planning to announce his retirement today. They describe him as "upset" with how this has played out. We still await any official notice from his office and/or the #SCOTUS public information office.— Shannon Bream (@ShannonBream) January 26, 2022
A bit more clarity. I'm told Justice Breyer had firmly decided on his own to retire and that an announcement was due very soon. And while it appears someone jumped the gun on that, better to characterize him as surprised by events today than "upset".— Shannon Bream (@ShannonBream) January 26, 2022
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during today's WH press briefing that Biden "certainly stands by" his promise to appoint a black woman to SCOTUS.
Jen Psaki says at today’s briefing that President Biden “certainly stands by that” vow to appoint a Black woman to SCOTUS https://t.co/vPhcEb9Lma— Betsy Klein (@betsy_klein) January 26, 2022
Neither SCOTUS nor Breyer have said anything about his supposedly plans for departure.
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Update (1200ET): Speculation is already shifting to the confirmation battle for Breyer's eventual successor now that a flock of media outlets have confirmed the justice's plans to retire after nearly 30 years on the bench.
One NYT reporter claims that Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski is in "the most interesting position", having previously supported some liberal judges in recent votes. Plus, recent changes to Alaska's primary system mean Murkowski could benefit more by appeasing more moderate voters.
Murkowski’s the R in the most interesting position here; she’s in cycle, but in Alaska’s new runoff system D voters are more valuable to her than MAGA Rs, who support her Trump-backed challenger. https://t.co/BDPWSM6L9Z— David Weigel (@daveweigel) January 26, 2022
Also, if Biden nominates KBJ, Murkowski’s already voted for her once; oppose her for SCOTUS and she can just get hit for not trying to block her last year. (Not that she could have done so.)— David Weigel (@daveweigel) January 26, 2022
Meanwhile, Democratic insiders are whispering about Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was appointed last summer to the Washington DC Court of Appeals (seen as a stepping stone to the nation's highest court), being the top candidate since President Biden has said he would nominate a black woman, what would be a first for the court. But KBJ, as she has become known, isn't the only contender.
Ketanji Brown Jackson
According to NPR News, it's down to KBJ and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger. KBJ was on President Obama's shortlist for the court in 2016, and Kruger (also a black woman) served as assistant, and then deputy solicitor general in both Democratic and Republican administrations prior to her nomination to California's highest court.
Both women are young for SCOTUS: Brown Jackson is 51 and Kruger is 45. And both possess the legal credentials necessary to potentially attract a moderate Republican or two. There is no filibuster for SCOTUS nominees.
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In a midday headline that rocked Washington, NBC News reports that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the minority of liberal justices on the Court, is planning to retire before the midterms to give President Biden a chance to nominate and install a replacement.
Minutes ago, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted a statement that neither confirmed, nor denied, the NBC News report, but simply said that each justice must make their own decision about when to retire.
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 from @WhiteHouse— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) January 26, 2022
Supreme Court justices are appointed for life, but a justice can decide to retire at any time. Some progressives had hoped to push Breyer toward retirement given his age. One group called "Demand Justice" even sent a billboard truck driving around the Supreme Court building in April with the message: "Breyer, retire. It's time for a Black woman Supreme Court justice," a reference to President Biden's vow to nominate a Black woman to the court.
However, the campaign to push for Breyer's retirement never really gained momentum in the Senate, which is responsible for voting on judicial nominations. Only a handful of Democrats have suggested they would like to see Breyer, who was nominated to the court in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, retire of his own accord - at least this was the general attitude as recently as last fall, according to an NPR report.
Perhaps the possibility that Breyer has changed his mind is a sign that the Democratic leadership is lowering its expectations ahead of November's midterms as President Biden's approval rating continues to sink.
Even if he retires and is successfully replaced by Biden, Dems would simply be left with the same number of liberal-leaning SCOTUS seats as they had before.
Now it's time for Dems to hypocritically argue that it's 100% OK to nominate and confirm a SCOTUS justice before an election that could result in a change of which party controls Congress.