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Biden promises Black woman nominee to SCOTUS as Justice Breyer announces retirement: recap

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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Thursday formally announced the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer at a White House event, praising the liberal jurist as a "model public servant" and vowing to move swiftly to name his successor.

"I think he's a model public servant, in a time of great division in this country," Biden said.

Biden, who pledged to name a Black woman to the high court, said he planned to name his nominee by the end of February.

At 83, Breyer is the second-most senior associate justice, and his retirement was encouraged by liberals who wanted to ensure Biden's nominee would benefit from a Senate controlled by Democrats.

The president said he would seek out advice from both parties and leading scholars, meet with potential candidates and carefully study their former cases before making his decision over the next month. But he vowed to name an "historic candidate" who is "worthy of Justice Breyer's legacy."

Biden, who presided over Breyer's confirmation as the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee nearly three decades ago, called Breyer's retirement "bittersweet."

"We all had high hopes for the mark he would leave on the history of law and the Constitution," he recalled. "And he's exceeded those hopes in every possible way."

What's next: Breyer retirement lays groundwork for historic nomination of first Black woman to Supreme Court

Fellow justices praise Breyer for wisdom, service – and knock-knock jokes

The other eight members of the Supreme Court offered well wishes for their retiring colleague Thursday, praising Associate Justice Stephen Breyer for his decades of service, wit and joie de vivre at a time when tensions seem to have mounted on the high court.

In a series of statements, Breyer's colleagues applauded his approach to the law and his embrace of civility.

"Justice Stephen G. Breyer is an energetic jurist and dear friend," Chief Justice John Roberts said. "His pragmatism, encyclopedic knowledge, and varied government experience have enriched the court's deliberations."

Roberts also had some fun with his colleague, noting Breyer's penchant for "fanciful hypotheticals during oral argument" -- pet oysters and "tomato children" have both made it into argument transcripts under Breyer's name.

"He is also a reliable antidote to dead airtime at our lunches, moving seamlessly from modern architecture to French cinema, to old radio shows, to a surprisingly comprehensive collection of riddles and knock-knock jokes," Roberts said.

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas said that while Breyer is leaving the court "our friendship and deep affection redoubles and endures."

The camaraderie is on display at a time when reports have suggested tension between justices as they tackle culture war issues such as abortion and gun rights this term. NPR recently reported that Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has diabetes, has been avoiding in-person oral arguments and other meetings because she is not comfortable being close to people who are unmasked. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch has consistently not worn a mask at arguments -- the only member of the court to decline to do so.

Sotomayor and Gorsuch released a statement last week saying they are "warm colleagues and friends."

By all accounts Breyer doesn't appear to have ever been caught up in whatever drama may exist behind the curtain. While not a swing vote, Breyer has long been viewed as a bridge between the ideological factions on the court -- able to find compromise with some of his more conservative colleagues. He has written books about the importance of civility to the court as an institution.

"His passion never manifests itself in anger," said the newest member of the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett. "Both in print and in person, Steve aims to persuade through exuberance rather than bite. He is a model of civility."

-- John Fritze

On April 23, 2021, on the Supreme Court from left: Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Elena Kagan, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Neil Gorsuch, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Amy Coney Barrett and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
On April 23, 2021, on the Supreme Court from left: Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Elena Kagan, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Neil Gorsuch, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Amy Coney Barrett and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Psaki: Lack of Black women on Supreme Court does not equal lack of qualified candidates

The fact that no Black women have ever been nominated for the Supreme Court is not an indication of a lack of qualified candidates, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

Instead, she said, it “shows a deficiency of the past selection processes.”

“The president's view is that it is long past time to have a Black woman on the Supreme Court,” she said.

Psaki had been asked whether Biden’s requirement that his nominee be a Black woman is “reverse racism” or otherwise inappropriate.

Psaki said that, in addition to nominat a record number of Black women to serve on the lower courts, Biden has also put forward “the highest level of Ivy League nominees.”

“He has nominated a broad sway of extremely qualified, experienced and credentialed nominees,” she said, “and done that by also making them incredibly diverse.”

-- Maureen Groppe

Breyer 'hand delivered' resignation letter to Biden

Psaki declined to say when Biden was made aware of Breyer's decision but revealed that the liberal jurist hand-delivered his formal resignation letter to the president this morning before the official White House event.

Psaki said the White House would lay out more detail about when Biden learned of Breyer's decision.

-- Courtney Subramanian

President Joe Biden shakes hands with Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer as Breyer removes his face mask to speak about his retirement in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022.
President Joe Biden shakes hands with Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer as Breyer removes his face mask to speak about his retirement in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022.

Psaki takes aim at Republicans as she points to no public short list to replace Breyer

White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded to Republican criticism of Biden's potential pick to succeed Breyer, emphasizing the White House has yet to reveal a list of potential nominees.

"We have not mentioned a single name. We have not put out a list," she said. "If anyone is saying they plan to characterize whoever he nominates, after thorough consideration with both parties, as radical before they knew literally anything about who she is, they just obliterated their own credibility."

Psaki's comments came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., released a statement saying Biden "must not outsource this important decision to the radical left."

She said Biden is grateful to Republican members who have already indicated they plan to work with him.

Asked when the White House plans to release Biden's short list, Psaki said declined to provide a timeline and repeated Biden is reviewing potential candidates.

-- Courtney Subramanian

'Long overdue': Biden reiterates vow to name first Black woman to Supreme Court

McConnell warns Biden against outsourcing SCOTUS pick to ‘radical left’

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called on Biden to nominate a moderate candidate to replace Breyer.

“To the degree that President Biden received a mandate, it was to govern from the middle, steward our institutions, and unite America,” McConnell said in a statement Thursday. “The president must not outsource this important decision to the radical left.”

Democrats are likely to scoff at McConnell’s warning. The GOP leader blocked Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, in 2016 and then put Donald Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, on a confirmation fast track.

-- Phillip Bailey

VP Harris to have 'central role' in nomination and confirmation of Breyer replacement

Vice President Kamala Harris will play a central role in finding a nominee to replace Breyer on the Supreme Court, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

She noted Harris’ past experience on the Senate Judiciary Committee and as California’s attorney general.

Biden, Psaki said, “respects her opinion greatly.”

Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, will also be heavily involved as will senior adviser Cedric Richmond, legislative affairs director Louisa Terrell and others.

During the confirmation process, outside experts will also be brought in to help, according to Psaki.

-- Maureen Groppe

Biden has been considering candidates since last year

Biden has been reviewing the records of potential Supreme Court candidates since last year, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

“His intention is to nominate a qualified candidate after completing a rigorous process,” she said of the timing.

Biden’s statement that he intends to announce his nomination to replace Stephen Breyer by the end of February makes clear it’s a priority for him, she added.

-- Maureen Groppe

What has Biden said in the past about filling Supreme Court vacancies?

While campaigning for president, Biden promised to name a Black woman to the nation's highest court for the first time in history. On Thursday, he reaffirmed that commitment. Biden already has nominated 62 women to the federal judiciary.

In the past he's commented on everything from court packing to who should get to pick nominees. With the retirement of Justice Breyer, Biden's past remarks could yield some clues about how he will go about picking a replacement for Breyer now.

Read the rest here: What Biden has said about filling vacancies on the nation's highest court

-- Chelsey Cox

Biden invites Breyer to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom

After Beyer spoke, Biden invited the justice and his wife to visit the White House and stay in the Lincoln Bedroom. Biden noted a handwritten copy of former President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is on the wall.

“You’ve got to come and see it,” he said. “Bring your grandchildren as well.”

Breyer had described how his wife, Joanna, paid their grandchildren to memorize the address, which Lincoln delivered during the Civil War.

-- Maureen Groppe

More: Justice Stephen Breyer's notable majority opinions and dissents, from abortion to the death penalty

Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer listens as President Joe Biden speaks about the retirement of Breyer in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Jan. 27, 2022.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer listens as President Joe Biden speaks about the retirement of Breyer in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Jan. 27, 2022.

Biden may be considering Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for SCOTUS

President Joe Biden confirmed Thursday he will nominate a Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court for the first time in the nation's history. One person widely considered to be a top candidate: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The 51-year-old, Harvard Law grad, who was recently confirmed to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was floated as a possible nominee back in 2016 when President Barack Obama was still in the White House.

You can read more about Judge Jackson here.

-- John Fritze

More: Who is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson? For starters, she once clerked for Justice Breyer

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominee to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Senate Office Building on April 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. The committee is holding the hearing on pending judicial nominations.
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominee to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Senate Office Building on April 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. The committee is holding the hearing on pending judicial nominations.

Breyer cites Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Holding a pocketbook copy of the Constitution, Breyer called the U.S. a “complicated country” that doesn’t always agree. He said the U.S. was founded as “an experiment,” one that continues today, before quoting Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.”

“We are now engaged in a great civil war to determine whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure,” Breyer said.

He expressed optimism that the “great experiment” will continue for future generations.

“I'm an optimist, and I'm pretty sure it will,” he said.

-- Joey Garrison

More: 'Stealthy' Justice Stephen Breyer had a big impact on abortion. That legacy is now in jeopardy

First lady Jill Biden, foreground, and Joanna Breyer, wife of Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, listen during an event to announce the retirement of justice Breyer in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, on Jan. 27, 2022.
First lady Jill Biden, foreground, and Joanna Breyer, wife of Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, listen during an event to announce the retirement of justice Breyer in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, on Jan. 27, 2022.

Biden declines to take questions about Breyer retirement, nominee

Biden declined to take questions Thursday following brief remarks announcing the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, saying it would be "inappropriate."

"I think it's inappropriate to take questions with the justice here," Biden said. "He's still sitting on the bench. But you'll have plenty of opportunities to get me later today."

Supreme Court justices rarely take questions from reporters but many of the questions Thursday would likely have directed to Biden the frenzied process that will now begin for choosing Breyer's successor.

-- John Fritze

Pragmatist. Institutionalist. Optimist: How Justice Stephen Breyer changed the Supreme Court

Biden to announce decision before the end of February

Biden said it's his intention to announce his decision for Breyer's successor before the end of February.

"I have made no choice at this point," the president said, noting that he plans to invite senators from both parties, leading scholars and lawyers and advisers like Vice President Kamala Harris to offer their points of view.

"In the end, I will nominate a historic candidate, someone who is worthy of Justice Breyer's legacy."

-- Courtney Subramanian

Biden praises Breyer’s legacy

Biden said Breyer exceeded the hopes for him, when he was appointed to the court, “in every possible way.”

In particular, Biden praised Breyer for seeking common ground to bring colleagues together on opinions Biden called Breyer’s opinions practical, sensible and nuanced.

Breyer knew the job of a judge is not to law down the law, but to “get it right,” Biden said. He “gave faith to the notion that the law exists to help the people,” Biden added.

Beyer called Biden’s remarks “terribly nice.”

-- Maureen Groppe

U.S. President Joe Biden, with retiring U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Jan. 27, 2022.
U.S. President Joe Biden, with retiring U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Jan. 27, 2022.

Biden confirms he will nominate first Black woman to SCOTUS

President Joe Biden reiterated Thursday he will nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court for the first time in the nation’s history.

“It’s long overdue,” Biden said at the White House in an event with Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, who is retiring later this year. “I will keep that commitment.”

Biden, who said he is already reviewing candidates, said he would announce a candidate before the end of February.

-- John Fritze

Biden on Breyer: ‘Today is his day’

Biden called Breyer a “model public servant in a time of great division in this country,” adding that he’s “everything his country could have asked.”

“Today is his day – our day to commend his life of service and his life on the court,” Biden, before going into what he wants from a nominee to replace him.

-- Joey Garrison

President Joe Biden removes his face mask as he prepares to deliver remarks on the retirement of Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, left, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, on Jan. 27, 2022.
President Joe Biden removes his face mask as he prepares to deliver remarks on the retirement of Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, left, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, on Jan. 27, 2022.

Biden 'proud and grateful' to witness Breyer's career

Biden, a former senator who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it was "my honor" to vote to confirm Breyer to the U.S. Court of Appeals first in 1980 and later preside over his Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1994.

He said the pair joked before his remarks about how Biden would be president when he decided to retire.

"I was proud and grateful to be there at the start of his distinguished career in the Supreme Court," Biden said. "And I'm very proud to be here today on this announcement of his retirement."

-- Courtney Subramanian

Biden, Breyer begin remarks

President Joe Biden and Associate Justice Stephen Beyer have entered the Roosevelt Room at the White House, where the two will formally announce Breyer’s retirement.

“This is sort of a bittersweet day for me," Biden said. "Justice Breyer and I go back a long way.”

-- John Fritze

What is the process for Supreme Court nominations?

The process for replacing a Supreme Court justice always is closely watched, but it will take on new intrigue in the divided Senate, where Democrats have struggled to unify behind Biden's agenda.

The Senate is split evenly between the two parties, with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as the tie-breaking vote. While Democrats control the chamber, moderate senators in the party have stopped several pieces of legislation the Biden administration has championed.

Here is how Biden, and the presidents before him, get their nominee onto the high court: The process for Supreme Court nominations and how long it could take.

--- Rick Rouan

From left, Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Stephen Breyer.
From left, Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Stephen Breyer.

Breyer formally announces retirement in letter to Biden

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer confirmed Thursday he will retire after nearly three decades on the bench, offering his first public statement since the news of his decision broke a day earlier.

"I enormously appreciate the privilege of serving as part of the federal judicial system," Breyer wrote in a letter to the president announcing his retirement. "I have found the work challenging and meaningful."

Breyer’s letter was released by the court minutes before he was set to hold a joint appearance with Biden, who will now begin the process of nominating his successor.

Nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1994, Breyer has been a reliable vote for the court’s liberal bloc on cases dealing with abortion, guns and religion.

-- John Fritze

Breyer had a big impact on abortion. Will that legacy survive?

Justice Stephen Breyer may not be the best-known member of the Supreme Court, but the senior-most liberal justice has had a huge impact on the divisive issue of abortion.

As he prepares to leave the court, many of those opinions appear to be in jeopardy.

Breyer has written key opinions expanding the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established the constitutional right to abortion and a subsequent 1992 case. But the court, where conservatives enjoy a 6-3 advantage, has shifted substantially in recent years and a majority has signaled it may undermine those precedents later this year.

You can read more about Breyer’s abortion decisions here:

Abortion rights: 'Stealthy' Justice Stephen Breyer had a big impact on abortion. That legacy is now in jeopardy

-- John Fritze

Republicans could delay, but not block Biden's Supreme Court pick if all Democrats back nominee

Republicans could delay the confirmation of Biden’s pick to replace Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, but they won’t be able to block it by themselves if all Democrats unite behind a nominee.

Under Senate rules that GOP lawmakers changed several years ago, a simple majority is all that’s needed to approve a presidential nomination to the country’s highest court.

That means the 50 Democrats could push through Biden’s pick with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking 51st vote, a fact acknowledged by South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee that will hold hearings on the eventual nominee.

“If all Democrats hang together – which I expect they will – they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without one Republican vote in support,” he tweeted Wednesday shortly after news of Breyer’s retirement broke.

Read the whole story here: Republicans could delay, but not block Biden's Supreme Court pick if all Democrats back nominee

– Ledge King

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden to name first Black woman to SCOTUS as Breyer retires: recap