US President Joe Biden set to make his first Supreme Court nomination

Liberal US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring, giving President Joe Biden an opening he has pledged to fill by appointing the first black woman to the High Court.

Two sources confirmed the news to The Associated Press on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to anticipate Judge Breyer’s official announcement.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Mr Biden “maintained” his commitment to diversifying the bench, but declined to confirm media reports of Judge Breyer’s retirement.

Among the names circulated as potential candidates are California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, US Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, prominent civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill and US District Judge Michelle Childs, whom Ms. Biden nominated judge of the Court of Appeals.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by US President Joe Biden.(PA: Tom Williams)

Judge Jackson, 51, was appointed by then-President Barack Obama as a district court judge. Mr. Biden elevated her to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Early in her career, she also clerked for Judge Breyer.

A black woman with short hair stands in a courtroom, staring straight ahead.
Judge Michelle Childs is currently a federal judge in South Carolina.(PA: Charles Dharapak)

Judge Childs, a federal judge from South Carolina, has been nominated but not yet confirmed to serve on the same circuit court. She is a favorite of some top lawmakers, including Democratic Representative James Clyburn, and has received support from Republicans.

A black woman stands in a courtroom, smiling in mid-sentence.
Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, as well as US Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, have long been considered potential candidates.(PA: S. Todd Rogers)

Ms. Kruger, a graduate of Harvard and Yale Law Schools, served as a Supreme Court clerk and argued a dozen cases before judges as a federal government attorney.

Mr. Biden has been focused on filling federal judicial appointments with a more diverse group of justices, and the Supreme Court has not been a priority in his first year in office, according to aides and allies of the White House.

A decision on a candidate has yet to be made, they said, and is expected to take a few weeks. But Mr. Biden has expanded his pool of candidates by appointing more black women to the bench.

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Since Mr. Biden took office in January 2021, he has installed five black women in federal appeals courts, with three other appointments pending before the Senate.

Another Supreme Court nominee could come from this group, Biden aides and allies said. Almost all recent Supreme Court nominees are Federal Court of Appeal judges.

Breyer’s decades-long legacy

Judge Breyer, 83, has been a pragmatic force on a bench that has become increasingly conservative in recent years.

He has served as a judge since 1994, when he was appointed by then-President Bill Clinton.

Along with the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Breyer chose not to step down the last time Democrats controlled the White House and Senate, under President Barack Obama.

Justice Ginsburg died in September 2020, and then-President Donald Trump filled the vacancy with a conservative judge, Amy Coney Barrett.

An elderly man in glasses squeezes his fingers in front of him on a desk, looking interested.
Justice Stephen Breyer has served on the Supreme Court since 1994, when he was appointed by then-President Bill Clinton.(PA: Steven Senne)

The departure of Judge Breyer, expected around the middle of this year, will not change the conservative 6-3 advantage on the ground, as his replacement will be nominated by Mr Biden and almost certainly confirmed by a Senate where Democrats have the most slight majority.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Mr Biden’s nominee would “be given a speedy hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee” and be reviewed and confirmed by the full US Senate “with speed.” deliberate”.

Republicans who changed Senate rules during the Trump era to allow simple majority confirmation of Supreme Court nominees appeared resigned to the outcome.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement: “If all Democrats stick together – which I think they will – they have the power to replace the Judge Breyer in 2022 without a single Republican vote.”

A group of people dressed in elegant clothes sit in the front row of a room
Then-President Barack Obama (far right) appointed the last woman to the Supreme Court in 2010, overseen here by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (left).(PA: Charles Dharapak)

Often overshadowed by fellow liberal Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer wrote two major pro-abortion rights opinions to a court narrowly divided on the issue, and he laid out his growing unease with the death penalty in a series of dissenting opinions in recent years.

In more than 27 years on the court, Judge Breyer has been an active and cheerful questioner during arguments, a frequent and quick public speaker with a joke, often at his own expense.

PA

Kevin E. Boling