Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will retire at the end of the current term, giving President Joe Biden a crucial opportunity to replace the liberal justice, NBC News reported Wednesday.
Breyer at age 83 is the oldest member of the court. Former President Bill Clinton nominated him and he took his seat in 1994. Biden as a presidential candidate vowed that his first Supreme Court nominee would be a Black woman.
Breyer will retire as the high court, sporting a 6-3 conservative majority after the Senate confirmed three nominees of former President Donald Trump, shows a willingness to wade into divisive cultural issues and question long-standing judicial precedent.
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer is seen during a group portrait session for the new full court at the Supreme Court in Washington, November 30, 2018.
Jim Young | Reuters
Breyer is expected to step down at the end of the court’s current term, NBC reported, citing people familiar with the decision. Biden is expected to act quickly so his successor can be ready to serve when the next term begins Oct. 3, according to NBC.
Republicans, who hope to regain a majority in the Senate, could throw a Biden nominee in jeopardy if they take control of the chamber in January and the seat is still open.
Democrats can confirm Breyer’s successor with a simple majority in the Senate, which is currently split 50-50 between the two parties. Vice President Kamala Harris wields the decisive vote in case of a tie.
“It has always been the decision of any Supreme Court Justice if and when they decide to retire, and how they want to announce it, and that remains the case today,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Twitter.
“We have no additional details or information to share from @WhiteHouse,” she tweeted.
A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Some U.S. progressives, eager to at least preserve the three-seat liberal wing of the court, have pushed Breyer to step down quickly and allow Biden to nominate his successor while Democrats hold the Senate majority.
In interviews over the past year, Breyer appeared to chafe at these calls, while noting that he did not “intend to die on the court.”
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