Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, at 83 the oldest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, will retire at the end of the court’s current term that runs until the end of June, NBC News and CNN reported on Wednesday, giving President Joe Biden the opportunity to appoint a successor who could serve for decades.
Breyer authored important rulings upholding abortion rights and healthcare access, helped advance LGBT rights and questioned the constitutionality of the death penalty but often found himself in dissent on a court that has moved rightward and currently has a 6-3 conservative majority.
Breyer was appointed to the Supreme Court by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1994. Only conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, one of two Black men ever on the high court, has served longer among the current justices, joining it in 1991.
Biden during the 2020 presidential election campaign pledged to nominate a Black woman to fill any Supreme Court vacancy, which would be a historic first. Biden’s fellow Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in the U.S. Senate, which under the U.S. Constitution gets to confirm Supreme Court nominees.
Potential Biden nominees include Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former Breyer law clerk who was confirmed by the Senate last June to serve on an influential U.S. appellate court, and Leondra Kruger, who serves on the California Supreme Court.