Rachel Phillips, Staff
After 28 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Breyer has announced his retirement and will officially step down at the end of the current term, occurring in late June or July of 2022. Over the years, Breyer has been known as a moderate on the Court, with his history of voting only indicating a slightly more conservative outlook than his Democratic peers. However, following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Breyer became the Court’s senior liberal, and his soon-to-be-vacant seat presents an opportunity for the Biden administration to introduce a potentially more progressive candidate. While the new Justice will not change the current 6 to 3 ratio of conservative to liberal judges in the Supreme Court, it does ensure that the seat will be filled by a Democratic preferred candidate who could potentially serve for decades. The timing of Breyer’s retirement also confirms that the seat will not be vacated during a future, potentially Republican, administration, where their chosen candidate could further sway an already conservative court majority. President Biden has yet to decide on his nominee, but the predicted timeline indicates the name could be announced as quickly as the end of February 2022. Democrats have adamantly stated they expect an efficient search and transition, hoping to parallel the speed of Republicans during the Amy Coney Barrett nomination in October of 2020.
The President is also hoping to deliver on a promise he made during his 2020 presidential campaign. Like the pledges of both Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, who vowed to nominate women, President Biden is planning to nominate the first Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. Currently, the front runners include Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, Judge Candace Rae Jackson-Akiwumi who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and Judge J. Michelle of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. This list, however, is likely to expand in the coming weeks, as President Biden has stated that he is preparing to meet with an increasing number of nominees, as well as consult with lawyers, scholars and Vice President Kamala Harris throughout the decision process. In addition, Biden is also willing to hear suggestions from senators of either party regarding potential candidates. While the response to President Biden’s search criteria has drawn the criticism of many Republican leaders and accusations of “identity politics,” it is unlikely his position will change. Jen Psaki, Biden’s press secretary, confirmed during a White House briefing that “the President has stated and reiterated his commitment to nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court and certainly stands by that.”