Associate Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest of the nine members, says he is considering stepping down from the bench following a decades-long career as one of its preeminent liberals as calls rise from the left for him to retire.
Progressives have been calling on him to step aside before the 2022 elections over fears that Republicans may be able to retake control of the Senate and potentially block any of President Joe Biden’s more liberal nominees, The New York Times reported Friday.
As such, Breyer says he is considering when would be the best time for him to call an end to his career.
“There are many things that go into a retirement decision,” he told the Times, noting that he wants his successor to be a justice who will not “just reverse everything I’ve done for the last 25 years,” a quote taken from his late associate, Justice Antonin Scalia.
President Bill Clinton nominated Breyer, 83, to the high court in 1994. In recent months after Biden won the presidency and was inaugurated, he has facing a growing chorus of left-wing lawmakers to hang up his robes ahead of the 2022 midterms amid a pledge by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that he won’t permit a vote on a high court nominee during an election year.
The minority leader’s position is the same one he took when, as the chamber’s majority leader, he blocked the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland in 2016. His third pick, President Barack Obama selected Garland to replace Scalia who passed away suddenly, but McConnell and the then-GOP-controlled Senate would not even hold hearings on him, let alone allow a vote.
Scalia’s seat was eventually filled by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the first of three justices nominated by former President Donald Trump.
In his interview with the Times, Breyer indicated that he didn’t want to remain on the bench until the end of his life.
“I don’t think I’m going to stay here till I die — I hope not,” he said.
He also told the paper that there is a lot to consider when making the final decision to step down.
“There are a lot of blurred things there, and there are many considerations. I don’t like making decisions about myself,” he said.
Breyer’s potential retirement would mean the court would retain its constitutionalist-leaning 6-3 majority, which has also lead far-left lawmakers and pundits to push Biden and the Democrat-controlled Congress to expand the high court.
But Breyer isn’t a fan of expansion, telling the Times he’s “wary” because it will send the message to the public that the Supreme Court is just another political entity within the government, not an independent judicial body.
“Think twice, at least,” he told the paper in urging caution. “If A can do it, B can do it. And what are you going to have when you have A and B doing it?”
He went on to say that the country must operate with a “rule of law,” describing the concept as “one weapon against tyranny, autocracy, irrationality.”
Expanding the court, he added, would give the appearance of politics affecting rulings, which he said would serve to undermine the rule of law.
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