What Justice Breyer's retirement means for the future of the U.S. Supreme Court
Last week, Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement after serving 28 years in the U.S. Supreme Court. He was appointed in 1994 by then-President Bill Clinton.
During his time on the bench, Breyer was known for being professorial, practical and moderately liberal.
Paul Nolette, chair and associate professor of political science at Marquette University, says, "There's a lot of distinctive parts of Stephen Breyer's legacy over the last several years because of his tenure, and because of his expertise on the court, and particularly after Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing, he really has taken on a leadership role in his last years here on the bench."
He says unlike some other previous justices in history, Breyer loved his job. Breyer enjoyed posing tough questions to the court and wrestling with the hard issues of the nation.
Breyer is expected to stay on until the end of the court term once a replacement is confirmed. Who he may be replaced with and the timing of his retirement were all factors in Breyer's decision to exit the Supreme Court.
Nolette says, "I think Breyer understood the political situation with President [Joe] Biden in office and with Democrats with a very, very narrow majority that they may well lose in the 2022 elections — those factors were very important, I'm sure, in his retirement decision."
With Breyer's retirement, Biden plans to keep his 2020 campaign promise to nominate a Black woman to the court. Nolette says the front-runners are Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is a D.C. circuit court judge, and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger.
When it comes to the number of conservative versus liberal justices on the court, Nolette says the make up with remain the same. But he says, "Every time that a new justice joins the court, the court is a little bit different because of the different experiences, background legal expertise that the person brings into the job."
Whoever the nominee is will be walking into a lot of big cases in the next term, Nolette notes.
"Things are not getting less controversial in terms of the docket that the court will be dealing with, just as we've seen in the last few years of the Roberts' court. The court has been increasingly willing to weigh in on very weighty and polarizing issues. So the new nominee is going to be walking right into that, " he says.