Justice Breyer Says He Has No Plans to Leave Supreme Court

Justice Breyer says he is enjoying a new position of influence on the court as the most senior of its liberal faction.


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Justice Breyer, under pressure to retire from the Supreme Court, says he has not decided on his future.

Progressives have called for Justice Stephen G. Breyer to step down soon so that President Biden can select his successor.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

July 15, 2021, 11:27 a.m. ET

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, 82, says he has no plans to retire despite calls from progressives demanding the 27-year Supreme Court veteran step down voluntarily to ensure that Senate Democrats have the power to select a liberal successor.

Justice Breyer, speaking to CNN in an interview posted Thursday, said he had not decided on his future but was relishing his new role as dean of the court’s remaining liberals after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death last year gave conservatives a commanding six-to-three majority thanks to her replacement, Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

When asked what factors will determine his decision, Justice Breyer replied, “Primarily, of course, health,” adding, “Second, the court.”

Some progressives have called upon Justice Breyer to step down immediately, citing the fragility of the Democrats’ slim control of the deadlocked 50-50 Senate, which is contingent on the tiebreaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, blocked President Barack Obama’s appointment of Merrick B. Garland to the high court following the death of conservative Antonin Scalia in 2016. Mr. Garland is now President Biden’s attorney general.

Mr. McConnell rammed through the confirmation of Justice Barrett just over a week before the 2020 election — and many Democrats believe he will be able to block any nominee proposed by Mr. Biden if Republicans win back control of the Senate in 2022.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a leader of the Democratic Party’s left wing, has joined another New York progressive, Representative Mondaire Jones, in suggesting Justice Breyer step aside.

“You know, it’s something I think about, but I would probably lean towards yes,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said when asked on Sunday whether Justice Breyer should retire soon. “I would give more thought to it, but I’m inclined to say yes.”

But Justice Breyer, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the court in 1994, is showing no signs of a quick exit, saying that he is enjoying a new position of influence on the court as the most senior of a liberal faction that includes Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

During the session that just ended, he also assumed a central role on majority decisions that spanned the court’s ideological camps, including the third, and perhaps decisive, rejection of a challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

Justice Breyer said his new place in the overall court pecking order — he now gets to speak third in deliberations after Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas — “has made a difference to me.”

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