Soon to be former Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has just announced his retirement will be effective starting Thursday at noon, which will be only hours following the two last opinions that the Court will issue during this term before they go into summer recess, the next term will not begin until October 3rd. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was nominated by Biden and confirmed by the Senate to succeed Breyer, is “prepared to take the prescribed oaths to begin her service as the 116th member of this Court,” said Breyer in a letter to Biden announcing his final notice of retirement. Breyer, 83, who was appointed to the court in 1994 by then-President Bill Clinton, announced his pending retirement in January, saying he would step down at the end of the court’s current term. “It has been my great honor to participate as a judge in the effort to maintain our Constitution and the Rule of Law,” Breyer said in his letter.
Jackson was nominated by Biden in late February and confirmed by the Senate in a 53-47 in early April. Fears had risen among some that Breyer would not have retired before Congressional midterms, leading to a possible situation where Congressmembers could block Biden’s nomination to the Court. His retirement comes after nearly 28 years of serving on the court and a recent series of historic rulings by the high court. Breyer is one of three justices of the court’s more liberal wing, who dissented from a ruling last week that overturned woman’s constitutional right to an abortion established by the court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
A liberal vote on the Supreme Court with strong belief in the US system of government and a pragmatic view of the law, Breyer often interpreted the law to focus the law on how it could work for the average citizen. Quick to say that the Supreme Court couldn’t solve all of society’s problems, he also often voiced belief that the court shouldn’t be seen as part of the political branches but recognized that certain opinions could be unpopular. In his later years on the court, he was best known for a dissent he wrote in 2015 in a case concerning execution by lethal injection. He took the opportunity to write separately and suggest to the court that it take up the constitutionality of the death penalty. In the opinion, Breyer wrote that after spending many years on the court reviewing countless death penalty cases, he had come to question whether innocent people had been executed. He also feared that the penalty was being applied arbitrarily across the country. He noted that, in some cases, death row inmates could spend years, sometimes in solitary confinement, waiting for their executions. Breyer’s notable opinions include the majority opinion in the recess appointment case NLRB v. Noel Canning (unanimously rule that the President of the United States cannot use his authority under the Recess Appointment Clause of the United States Constitution to appoint public officials unless the United States Senate is in recess and not able to transact Senate business.) and his dissenting opinion in the copyright law case Eldred v. Ashcroft (upholding the constitutionality of the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act.)