Political circles in Washington are abuzz with excitement as if they had achieved world peace or ended the COVID-19 pandemic, but an 83-year-old man just wants to retire.
Justice Stephen Breyer is a well-liked justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, but liberals who generally agree with his opinions urged him to leave.
The reason he was pressured (a billboard truck calling for his retirement even took a few spins around the streets of the capital) is so that President Joe Biden can nominate a justice to take his place before the midterm elections in November while the Democratic Party still has a majority in the Senate. Alternatively, the Democratic president could have ended up like Barack Obama in 2016, when the Republicans weren’t even willing to take a vote on his nominee, Merrick Garland (the current attorney general). The Republicans instead waited until President Donald Trump could fill the vacancy, though it is every president’s dream and one of the highlights of a president’s political career to nominate a justice to the Supreme Court.
Justices have an impact on American society for decades because they are appointed for life.
Breyer was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1994. He was considered an intermediary who could bring together unlikely coalitions on the bench. But then Trump nominated three new justices in four years, forming a 6-3 Republican majority on the court and virtually eliminating the clout Breyer wielded.. Based on the Republican agenda, the much younger conservative justices who were nominated for a purpose (Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett) are expected to reverse liberal abortion laws, perhaps even this year, block stricter laws on gun control and overrule laws establishing affirmative action in education and the workplace as unconstitutional. This prospect probably made Breyer’s decision easier.
As for Biden, the vacancy has come at an opportune moment. The president is not in a great political position, but he can now focus on one of his most successful 2020 campaign promises; and the press might even cover his court nomination for months instead of focusing on the rough time he is having as president. Biden even promised that if he gets the opportunity, he will send a Black woman to the Supreme Court for the first time in American history.
The White House reiterated that the president will keep his word, something which will obviously be good for his decaying support. However, it will not be easy to confirm his nominee in the Senate. There is no chance that support will come from the right, so the historic decision will require support from all 50 Democratic Senators.