Washington — Chief Justice John Roberts delivered Wednesday a brief, touching tribute to retiring Justice Stephen Breyer at the end of what was the final oral argument session of Breyer's 28-year tenure on the high court.
His voice breaking with emotion, Roberts noted that Breyer will retire from the Supreme Court at the end of its current term, which will likely conclude by the end of June, meaning the arguments heard by the justices Wednesday were the last with Breyer on the bench.
"For 28 years, this has been his arena for remarks profound and moving, questions challenging and insightful, and hypotheticals downright silly," Roberts said.
The chief justice remarked that during its April sitting, the last of the term, Breyer spoke of "radioactive muskrats" and "John the Tiger Man," the latter of which was raised during arguments Tuesday. Other hypothetical questions Breyer posed to lawyers appearing before the court over the years have featured deranged "tomato children," a "rabbit-duck" and garage-door sensors eaten by raccoons.
Justice Clarence Thomas could be heard laughing as Roberts recalled the hypotheticals that became a staple of Breyer's decades on the high court.
"Now, at the appropriate time, we will in accordance with tradition and practice, read and enter into the record an exchange of letters between the court and Justice Breyer marking his retirement," Roberts continued. "For now, we leave the courtroom with deep appreciation for the privilege of sharing this bench with him."
Appointed to the Supreme Court in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, Breyerhe would be retiring at the end of the court's term. The decision by Breyer to leave the court gave President Biden his first chance to name a justice to the Supreme Court, and he selected Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in late February.
Jackson wasin a bipartisan 53 to 47 vote earlier this month, cementing her place in history as the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. In addition to serving on the federal bench for nine years, Jackson clerked for Breyer on the Supreme Court.
Breyer's retirement and Jackson's appointment will not alter the ideological makeup of the court, but at 51 years old, Jackson is poised to serve for decades.
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