Report: Justice Stephen Breyer to Step Down From Supreme Court

Biden vowed to appoint the first black woman to the High Court

Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer / Getty Images
January 26, 2022

Justice Stephen Breyer will step down from the Supreme Court when the term ends in June.

NBC News reported Wednesday that the 83-year-old justice decided to leave the Court within the last several weeks, citing sources familiar with Breyer's thinking. White House press secretary Jen Psaki was mum to the news, but did not deny the report.

Breyer's departure is a political lifeline for President Joe Biden, who faces sagging approval ratings and a deteriorating domestic situation. The prospect of a confirmation battle in a closely divided Senate will galvanize the Democratic base, now deflated and directionless following aborted pushes for a mammoth social spending bill and voting rights legislation. Breyer's replacement will be the first Democratic appointment to the High Court in more than a decade.

As a justice, Breyer was a regular vote with the Court's liberal bloc, but his pragmatic turn of mind occasionally led him to side with the conservatives on criminal justice issues and religious display cases. He was a force for consensus inside the Court, little known outside Washington, D.C., but an effective emissary between some of the biggest judicial personalities of modern history.

As a candidate, Biden vowed to appoint the first black woman to the High Court. Fulfilling that promise would further shore up the president's standing with rank-and-file Democrats. The leading contenders for Breyer's seat are thought to be Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Justice Leondra Kruger of the California Supreme Court.