Washington — President Biden praised retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer at the White House on Thursday, and said he plans to announce his nominee to fill Breyer's seat before the end of February. The president also reiterated his commitment toto the nation's highest court.
Mr. Biden and Breyer appeared together Thursday, one day after news emerged thatafter nearly 28 years on the Supreme Court. The president praised Breyer for his intellect, legal insight, work ethic, optimism and patriotism.
"This is sort of a bittersweet day for me. Justice Breyer and I go back a long way," Mr. Biden said, noting his "clear-eyed commitment to making our country's laws work for its people."
The president said he has been reviewing the work of possible candidates to fill Breyer's seat, but has not made a decision.
"Our process is going to be rigorous," Mr. Biden said. "I will select a nominee worthy of Justice Breyer's legacy of excellence and decency. While I've been studying candidates' backgrounds and writings, I have made no decision except one. The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity. And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court. It's long overdue, in my view. I made that commitment during the campaign for president, and I will keep that commitment."
After Mr. Biden's remarks, Breyer spoke to the complexities, differences and nuances of the American people, and shared what he's taught his students. It's "kind of a miracle" to see people so different who have "decided to help solve their major differences under law," he said. Still, he said future generations will determine whether the experiment of America continues.
"It's an experiment that's still going on," Breyer said. "And I'll tell you something, you know who will see whether that experiment works? It's you, my friend. It's you, Mr. High School Student. It's you, Mr. College Student. It's you, Mr. Law School Students. It's us, but it's you. It's that next generation, and the one after that."
The Supreme Court released Breyer's resignation letter to Mr. Biden shortly before the two appeared at the White House. Dated January 27, Breyer wrote he intends the decision will "take effect when the Court rises for the summer recess this year (typically late June or early July) assuming that by then my successor has been nominated and confirmed."
The decision paves the way for Mr. Biden to nominate a Supreme Court justice who would potentially secure a liberal seat on the court for decades. At 83 years old, Breyer is the oldest sitting Supreme Court justice, and the most senior of the court's three liberal members. His retirement comes after a monthslong campaign by progressive groups urging him to step aside to allow Mr. Biden to select his replacement.
Top Democrats vowed to confirm a replacement to Breyer quickly, particularly in an election year when future control of the Senate is at stake. Democrats currently control the evenly divided Senate, and a simple majority is needed to confirm Supreme Court justices. The party could use a timeline similar to the one Republicans used to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Barrett was confirmed about a month after her nomination.
"America owes Justice Breyer an enormous debt of gratitude," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday. "President Biden's nominee will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed."