The eldest Supreme Court justice just announced his retirement which will lead to the first installation of a new liberal member of the court in twelve years.
Today’s announcement that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, the senior liberal justice on an increasingly right-wing court, will be retiring by the end of the Court’s current term has inspired an avalanche of commentary on social media.
Breyer’s retirement offers President Biden his first opportunity to nominate a new justice to a court that many Democrats feel has been unethically packed with conservative, Federalist Society-approved jurists, largely through unscrupulous manipulation of confirmation rules by Republicans when that party still retained a majority in the Senate.
The news of Breyer’s intention to step down from the bench was leaked by “two people familiar with the decision” according to The New York Times.
President Biden deferred comment on the news, citing the fact that Justice Breyer has yet to formally announce his decision, a step that is likely to take place tomorrow at the White House.
President Biden said he would have “more to say later” about Justice Breyer’s intention to retire, and he pointed out that Breyer has not formally announced his plan to leave SCOTUS. pic.twitter.com/0wJcFqAxui
— Weijia Jiang (@weijia) January 26, 2022
The anticipated move by Breyer comes after he repeatedly dismissed inquiries about his plans for ending his 28-year career on the Supreme Court.
Given the uncertainty about whether Democrats will be able to maintain their majority in the Senate after the mid-term elections, many party faithful breathed a sigh of relief at the opportunity to put a younger, more progressive jurist on the bench while they still likely have the votes to push through any nominee that Biden may decide upon.
Biden having promised during his presidential campaign that he would nominate a Black woman to the court, speculation on exactly whom he will nominate and whether the Democratic caucus is united enough to confirm his eventual nominee burned up the Twittersphere.
Dems start off with good chance of getting Breyer's replacement confirmed. Since GOP changed filibuster rules on SCOTUS nominees in 2017, a simple majority is all that's needed.
Manchin has long deferred to presidents' nominees; Sinema tends to vote for Biden nominees
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 26, 2022
Some people made specific predictions of people that President Biden is likely to consider for the nomination of a replacement for Breyer.
Yes, we can all name other Black women that we very much like. But assuming that Biden is going to do things by the most obvious book, and nominate a justice who has spent their career being a judge, this is your list.
— Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC) January 26, 2022
The two leading candidates to replace Breyer, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and CA SC Justice Leondra Kruger, both have a platinum-plated resume every bit as prestigious and rarefied as those of the last several appointees. Including the most prestigious clerkships in the country.
— Harry Litman (@harrylitman) January 26, 2022
How AWESOME would it be if President Biden picked Michelle Obama to replace Supreme Court Justice Breyer?
— BrooklynDad_Defiant! (@mmpadellan) January 26, 2022
Supreme court justice Stephen Breyer just announced his retirement!!!! Can we please get a female WOC who is the same age as Amy Coney Barrett? Thx!
— Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) January 26, 2022
Others presaged the upcoming political battles over whomever the president decides to name as his nominee.
Just to be clear, Republicans will of course start with racist attacks about the qualifications of the black woman @JoeBiden nominates to replace Breyer.
For the record, Amy Coney Barrett had no experience to be on the Court.
— Kaivan Shroff (@KaivanShroff) January 26, 2022
I have no idea who Joe Biden will pick to replace Stephen Breyer, but I'm pretty sure it won't be someone who was so blackout drunk all through prep school and college that he literally has no idea how many women he assaulted
— Jeff Tiedrich (@itsJeffTiedrich) January 26, 2022
Regardless of whom Biden nominates to replace Breyer, the right will attack with everything it has. Ever since Robert Bork’s nomination, SCOTUS appointments have provided a vehicle for the most extreme and bitter forms of partisan warfare.
— Robert Reich (@RBReich) January 26, 2022
Breaking: Justice Breyer will retire.
Biden will name a replacement.
GOP will attempt to obstruct.
— Chris Hahn (@ChristopherHahn) January 26, 2022
If Joe Biden promising to replace Stephen Breyer with an African-American woman upsets you, I'm sure he'd be willing to also appoint 2 more white justices along with her.
— John Fugelsang (@JohnFugelsang) January 26, 2022
Sen Lindsey Graham: "If all Democrats hang together, which I expect they will, they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without one Republican vote in support. Elections have consequences.. that is most evident when it comes to fulfilling vacancies on.. court"
— Scott MacFarlane (@MacFarlaneNews) January 26, 2022
Watch for "cult of personality" chatter about potential nominees to replace Justice Breyer. That is what is WRONG with SCOTUS they are a Super Legislature that wields way too much power. No disrespect for whichever woman of color is selected! But SCOTUS structure is deeply flawed
— Shanlon Wu (@shanlonwu) January 26, 2022
Republicans replaced Thurgood Marshall with Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Amy Coney Barrett. You can ignore all the complaints they will raise regardless of who Biden chooses to replace Breyer.
— scary lawyerguy (@scarylawyerguy) January 26, 2022
Still others were content to simply praise the departing justice and note the enormous challenge of finding a suitable replacement for him.
NBC reporting Justice Breyer to retire. If true, I had the privilege of clerking for Justice Breyer and arguing in front of him 45 times. He was brilliant, thoughtful, balanced. He leaves behind a long legacy. President Biden has huge shoes to fill.
— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) January 26, 2022
Justice Breyer has led an exemplary & distinguished career in public service. I’m grateful to him for all that he has done for our country.
I support @POTUS’s pledge to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. The Court should reflect the diversity of our country.
— Senator Patty Murray (@PattyMurray) January 26, 2022
While the excitement over the prospect of a new Supreme Court justice nominated by a Democratic president has party faithful rejoicing, the fact is that the overall balance of the court between right-wing, GOP appointed justices and the progressive wing of jurists will remain the same as it is currently.
Unless one of the conservative justices retires or expires while Democrats still control the White House and the Senate— or the unlikely event that Justice Clarence Thomas is impeached for the suspected involvement of his wife Ginni Thomas in organizing the January 6th insurrection, as some progressive activists have called for — only an expansion of the court will change its partisan balance and end the expected threat that the current court poses to abortion and voting rights.
Still, at least the nomination of a younger justice than the 83-year-old Breyer will remove a source of anxiety among Democrats about the worst that could happen to the Supreme Court if Republicans regain control of the majority in the Senate.
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Vinnie Longobardo is the Managing Editor of Occupy Democrats. He's a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.