Watch CBS News

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer Announces Retirement; Biden To Fill Vacancy

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring, giving President Joe Biden a chance to nominate to the bench.

Breyer, 83, has been a pragmatic force on a court that has grown increasingly conservative in recent years, trying to forge majorities with more moderate justices right and left of center.

NBC first reported the justice's plans.

Breyer has been a justice since 1994, appointed by President Bill Clinton. Along with the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Breyer opted not to step down the last time the Democrats controlled the White House and the Senate during Barack Obama's presidency. Ginsburg died in September 2020, and then-President Donald Trump filled the vacancy with a conservative justice, Amy Coney Barrett.

Justice Stephen Breyer
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer during an interview in his office, in Washington, DC. (credit: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Breyer's departure, expected over the summer, won't change the 6-3 conservative advantage on the court because his replacement will be nominated by Biden and almost certainly confirmed by a Senate where Democrats have the slimmest majority. It also makes conservative Justice Clarence Thomas the oldest member of the court at 73.

Among the names being circulated as potential nominees are California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, U.S. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, prominent civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill and U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs, whom Biden has nominated to be an appeals court. Childs is a favorite of Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who made a crucial endorsement of Biden just before South Carolina's presidential primary in 2020.

Last year Justice Breyer called the high court's refusal to block a controversial Texas law that bars abortions at six weeks "very, very, very wrong."

Under the law, abortion is prohibited when a fetal heartbeat is detected, and there is no exception for rape or incest -- although there is an exemption for "medical emergencies."

"Texas's law delegates to private individuals the power to prevent a woman from obtaining an abortion during the first stage of pregnancy," Breyer wrote in dissent. "But a woman has a federal constitutional right to obtain an abortion during that first stage."

Breyer told NPR that the Texas case should not have been decided on an emergency basis, but said, "We'll see what happens in that area when we get a substantive matter in front of us" in the future.

(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.