Portugal Colonial - Liberal US Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer to retire

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Liberal US Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer to retire
Liberal US Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer to retire

Liberal US Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer to retire

Stephen Breyer, one of three liberal justices on the US Supreme Court, plans to retire, paving the way for President Joe Biden to name a replacement to the nation's highest court.

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Breyer, 83, will step down at the end of the court's current term, which ends in June, the NBC and CNN television networks and major newspapers reported.

The New York Times said Breyer would formally announce his retirement at an event at the White House with Biden on Thursday.

The Supreme Court is currently split between six conservatives and three liberals.

Breyer's retirement will allow Biden to nominate another liberal to the court, where the justices serve for life unless they step aside voluntarily. Biden has pledged to nominate a Black woman to the court in the event of a vacancy.

Nominees to the Supreme Court need the approval of the Senate, which is currently controlled by Biden's Democratic Party.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praised Breyer in a statement and said the Senate will confirm Biden's eventual nominee "with all deliberate speed."

“For virtually his entire adult life, including a quarter century on the US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer has served his country with the highest possible distinction," Schumer said. "He is, and always has been, a model jurist.

"He embodies the best qualities and highest ideals of American justice: knowledge, wisdom, fairness, humility, restraint."

Among the leading candidates to replace Breyer are Ketanji Brown Jackson, a US Court of Appeals judge, and Leondra Kruger of the California Supreme Court.

Breyer is the oldest justice on the court and was nominated to the bench in 1994 by Democratic former president Bill Clinton.

Biden's predecessor Donald Trump nominated three justices to the court, sealing the 6-3 right-leaning majority.

Breyer is the senior member of the court's liberal wing and has carved out a legacy of pragmatism in the hundreds of opinions he authored in his long career.

The justice, who carries an annotated copy of the Constitution in his jacket pocket, has been a fierce opponent of the death penalty, and ruled in favor of abortion rights, same-sex marriage and environmental protection.

- 'They take the oath to heart' -

Born on August 15, 1938 in San Francisco, Breyer was educated at Stanford, Oxford and Harvard.

He began his legal career in 1964 as a clerk to then-Supreme Court justice Arthur Goldberg and then spent time working in the Justice Department on antitrust matters, before serving as an assistant special prosecutor on Watergate in 1973.

He taught at Harvard until 1980, when he got the nod from then-president Jimmy Carter to serve on the federal court of appeals in Boston, where he remained for more than a decade, eventually becoming its chief judge.

Breyer was initially considered for a Supreme Court spot in 1993, but his candidacy was marred by a revelation that he had failed to pay taxes for a part-time housekeeper.

A year later, he became Clinton's second nominee to the high court, after Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The pair would end up shoring up the liberal-progressive wing of the court for more than two decades.

Ginsburg died at the age of 87 while still serving on the court, allowing Trump to make his third nomination.

Breyer insisted in his rulings on assessing the real-world implications when deciding cases, rejecting the strict reading of the Constitution favored by some of his peers.

He bristled at the notion of partisanship on the court.

"My experience of more than 30 years as a judge has shown me that, once men and women take the judicial oath, they take the oath to heart," he said in a 2021 lecture at Harvard Law School, his alma mater.

"They are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment."