Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer Announces Retirement At 83

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Vivian Ye, Staff Writer

On January 27, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement after serving on the court for over 27 years. Breyer was appointed in 1994 by President Bill Clinton and is one of only three remaining liberal-leaning Supreme Court Justices.

Prior to Breyer’s Supreme Court nomination, he served as Chief Justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals. His ideology of law interpretation generally opposes textualism and originalism, which states that laws must be interpreted based on the original understanding at the time of implementation. Instead, Breyer opts to consider the purpose of laws when they were created. Throughout his career, Breyer has shown support of abortion and Obamacare, as well as his opposition to the death penalty. As of 2021, he is the second-most liberal Justice, behind Sonya Sotomayor.

Post-2020 presidential election, Breyer faced widespread pressure to retire so President Biden could appoint a younger liberal justice. A younger justice would solidify Democratic presence in the Supreme Court for the future. Breyer publicly stated that if a successor is confirmed by the end of this year’s term, he will retire. In his address, Breyer quoted former Justice Antonin Scalia: “I don’t want somebody appointed who will just reverse everything I’ve done for the last 25 years,” acknowledging that Breyer would need to retire during Biden’s term to ensure his successor is a Democrat.

In the current 6 to 3 Republican majority of the Supreme Court, Breyer’s decision is a significant win for the Democratic Party. Of the last 19 Supreme Court appointments, 15 were conservative and made by Republican presidents. During Donald Trump’s presidency, three appointments were made–one being Amy Coney Barrett as the successor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This change involved a Democrat being succeeded by a Republican, and the court shifted from 5 conservatives and 4 liberals to 6 conservatives and 3 liberals.

The new appointment will instate a liberal Justice in court for future decades and will leave a lasting legacy of Biden even after he leaves office. During his election campaign, Biden stated he would nominate an African-American woman to the Supreme Court. The appointment of Breyer’s replacement would be his first nomination to the court, and thus Biden has indicated that he intends to uphold his campaign promise.