Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest member of the nation’s highest bench at 82, is finally responding to months of calls from the left to retire while Democrats still control the Senate.
Speaking to CNN in an interview published Thursday, Breyer, the most senior liberal on the court, said he was not feeling that pressure, and answered simply, “No” when asked whether he had decided when he would step down.
As for the factors that would compel him to retire, the Supreme Court justice said there were two.
“Primarily, of course, health. Second, the court,” he said.
Breyer, who turns 83 in August, said his seniority on the bench is also a factor, noting how he enjoys the leadership that he’s able to bring to justices’ private discussions over cases as a 27-year veteran.
“[It] has made a difference to me,” he said of those discussions and his role in them, “It is not a fight. It is not sarcasm. It is deliberation.”
He did offer somewhat of a clue in terms of a timeline while discussing the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was confirmed to the court one year before him in 1993.
As a result, she was the senior justice on the left from 2010 to her death in 2020, when Breyer took over.
While Breyer’s term is unlikely to reach a decade like Ginsburg, he told the network he had decided his tenure would be longer than a single term.
Since President Biden took office in January, Democratic judicial groups have expressed their eagerness to fill the 82-year-old’s seat with a young, liberal replacement who could serve for decades.
Asked about his plans in an interview with Slate in December, Breyer said, “I mean, eventually I’ll retire, sure I will,” adding that, “[I]t’s hard to know exactly when.”
It remains to be seen whether will bow to the political pressures from the rising progressive left and bow out, as Democrats appear to worry that such a vacancy should be filled while Biden still has the Senate in Democratic control.
Those pressures only escalated when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last month that he would not allow a vote on a Supreme Court nominee from Biden if Republicans won back the chamber.
McConnell was asked whether he would follow the same rule he had the party used in 2016 to deny a hearing for then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.
Garland, who now serves as Biden’s attorney general, was originally nominated to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
“So I think it’s highly unlikely. In fact, no, I don’t think either party if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election. What was different in 2020 was we were of the same party as the president,” the Kentucky Republican said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show in June.
He was referring to the Senate’s confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, then-President Donald Trump’s pick to fill the vacancy left by Ginsburg’s death.
At the time, Republicans controlled the House and the Senate, and the vote infuriated Democrats who pointed to McConnell holding up the Garland nomination in the final months of the Obama administration in 2016.
The vote to approve Barrett gave Trump his third Supreme Court appointment in four years — along with Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — and cemented the 6-3 conservative majority on the court.