President Biden and outgoing Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will deliver remarks Thursday to mark the 83-year-old jurist’s retirement, which gives the 46th president his first opportunity to nominate someone to the highest court in the land.
The liberal justice and Biden are scheduled to speak at 12:30 p.m. in the White House’s Roosevelt Room.
The event serves as confirmation that Breyer will step away from the Supreme Court at the end of the current term after nearly three decades on the bench — and before a midterm election cycle that Republicans are expected to dominate.
Word of Breyer’s retirement leaked around midday Wednesday, but Biden and the White House refused to comment without a formal statement from the justice himself.
“Every Justice has the right and opportunity to decide what he or she is going to do and announce it on their own,” the president told reporters Wednesday. “There has been no announcement from Justice Breyer. Let him make whatever statement he’s gonna make and I’ll be happy to talk about it later.”
The Senate confirmed Breyer to his post in 1994 following his nomination by President Bill Clinton. In recent years, he had come under pressure from progressives to step away so that a Democratic president could appoint his replacement and shore up the court’s liberal wing.
The Supreme Court is currently made up of six conservatives and three liberals, with Breyer joining Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in the latter camp.
Biden has pledged to pick a black woman to replace Breyer. His nominee can pass the evenly divided Senate with just 51 votes — meaning no Republican support is needed, provided Vice President Kamala Harris is available to break a tie.
The main contenders to replace Breyer include 51-year-old DC appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former Breyer clerk who was confirmed by the Senate 53-47 last year with three Republican votes.
Another possibility is Georgia federal Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner, 47, the sister of two-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, 45, is also believed to be in contention. Kruger, whose mother was a Jamaican immigrant, would be the sixth person of Jewish heritage to hold the Supreme Court seat currently occupied by Breyer in the past 90 years. (Benjamin Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg, Abe Fortas and Breyer himself are the others.)
Harris, 57, has also been mentioned as a potential contender due to her background as a former California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney, though the White House has insisted Biden and Harris will run for re-election as one ticket in 2024.