The White House has been informed that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will retire on Thursday, bringing an end to his decades-long tenure on the court. Breyer’s retirement comes as the court is wrapping up a controversial term in which conservative-leaning colleagues of Breyer’s rolled back protections for firearms and the separation of church and state and overturned Roe v. Wade. Breyer’s retirement comes as the court is wrapping up a controversial term.
After the court has issued its last two decisions on Thursday morning at 10 a.m., Justice Breyer has said in a letter to the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, that he will begin his retirement on Thursday at noon Eastern time.
Breyer had previously announced his impending retirement in January, saying that he would retire at the end of the court’s term provided that his successor had been confirmed, which Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has since been. Breyer’s retirement will take place after the current term of the court comes to an end.
Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety is a case that involves state sovereignty, and the judge, who will have served on the Supreme Court for more than 25 years, heard his last case in April. He most likely issued his final majority decision for the court on Wednesday in this case.
In statements that were released on Wednesday, Breyer’s fellow justices offered words of praise for the 83-year-old justice. Chief Justice John Roberts referred to Breyer as “a tireless and powerful advocate for the rule of law,” and Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that Breyer “has made the Court and America better.”
It is not yet certain when precisely Jackson will be sworn in as Breyer’s replacement on the court, but she will be sworn in before the court’s next term begins in the autumn, making her the first Black woman to ever serve on the high court. The specific timing of Jackson’s swearing in is yet unknown.
WHAT TO KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR
There are still two significant opinions that need to be released by the court before Breyer departs. In the first case, West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, the court will decide whether or not the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. If the court rules against the EPA, this could significantly hinder the federal agency’s ability to combat climate change. The outcome of the other case, which is titled Biden v. Texas, will determine the fate of the immigration policy known as “Return to Mexico,” which was initially imposed by the Trump administration. The Biden administration has attempted to get rid of the policy, but Republican-led states have fought to keep it in place.
After a legal career that included serving as counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as an assistant special prosecutor on the Watergate scandal, and as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which President Jimmy Carter appointed him to in 1980, Breyer was first confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1994 after being appointed by President Bill Clinton. This followed a legal career that included serving as an assistant special prosecutor on the Watergate scandal. The justice who leans to the left was subjected to intense pressure from those on the left to step down while Democrats controlled both the White House and the Senate. This was done in order to ensure that a successor who leans to the left can be confirmed. The justice initially refused to step down but then announced his retirement in January. His departure comes at a contentious time for the Supreme Court, when public confidence in the court is at an all-time low as a result of its historic decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow individual states to pass laws criminalising abortion. In recent weeks, the Supreme Court has issued several rulings that have struck down New York’s concealed carry law, sided with a high school football coach who was punished for publicly praying on the field during games, and ruled that Maine must allow state funds to be used to pay for religious schools. These decisions were all driven by the court’s conservative majority.