Progressive Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, who has held the Supreme Court post for nearly 28 years, intends to step down at the end of the current session, which ends June 30, several reported Wednesday. US media, citing unnamed sources.
Appointed to his post by Bill Clinton, he had until then refused to reveal his plans, simply declaring that he had “no intention of dying in court”.
A black woman on the Supreme Court would be a historic first
Even if this appointment will not change the composition of the Court (6 conservative judges, 3 progressive), “the president has said and repeated his promise to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court and this promise still holds today”, has announced Wednesday its spokesperson Jen Psaki, who however refused to confirm the resignation of the progressive judge Stephen Breyer.
Joe Biden had indeed promised during his campaign in 2020 to appoint an African-American woman to the Supreme Court, a first in the history of the United States.
Who are the potential candidates?
Ketanji Brown Jackson
Among the potential candidates to replace him is Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, whom Joe Biden brought to the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, considered a springboard for the Supreme Court. Her career – champion of eloquence competition from high school, graduated with honors from the prestigious Harvard University, a career in the public and private sectors and eight years as a federal trial judge – places her at the top of the forecasts. She was also once Stephen Breyer’s assistant.
Before senators in April, she vowed to set aside “her personal opinions and any other inappropriate consideration”, including her skin color, in her review of records. But, “I may have a different experience of life from that of my colleagues,” she soberly admitted.
The name of Leondra Kruger, Justice of the Supreme Court of California, 45, is also circulating insistently. Daughter of a Jamaican immigrant, she worked for the Obama administration. She clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens, and argued 12 different Supreme Court cases for the US government, serving as the acting Deputy Solicitor General under Obama.
J. Michelle Childs
Some media also mention the name of J. Michelle Childs, judge of the District Court of South Carolina after having worked her way up the private ladder to a position on the workers’ compensation board, before being appointed to the fifth judicial circuit court of South Carolina, and finally to the district court of the United States. A graduate of the University of South Carolina Law School, she lacks the Ivy League background that eight of the current nine judges share. But that could just work in its favor: the White House has said it wants to appoint judges from non-elitist backgrounds. Moreover, according to the specialist in American politics Jean-Eric Branaa, the Democrat Clyburn “supports Michelle Childs. He assures that she will also have the support of Republicans in South Carolina, which is important in the nomination process. »
Other women on the list of names highlighted by the American media include Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, a judge of the Seventh Circuit, Eunice Lee, judge of the second circuit and former public defender of New York, or even Wilhelmina Wright, judge of the federal district court of Minnesota.
A resignation to avoid a new conservative replacement
Since the start of Joe Biden’s term in January 2021, progressives have been clamoring for the judge’s retirement, before the November midterm elections in which the Democrats risk losing control of the Senate.
The American Constitution provides that the nine wise men of the Court, which arbitrates most of the major social issues in the United States, are appointed for life by the President and confirmed by the Senate, the upper house of Congress. And the Republicans do not hide that they could block a candidate chosen by Joe Biden if they regain the majority in the Senate. Already at the end of 2020, the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg had allowed Donald Trump to move the Supreme Court to the right by appointing Amy Coney Barrett, with 6 conservatives against 3 progressives.
Their influence has been notable since September, with a shift to the right assumed. The court overhauled by the billionaire has already invalidated the vaccination obligation in large companies decreed by Joe Biden and seems ready to reconsider the right to abortion, to expand the right to bear arms or even to dismantle certain environmental regulations .
Even if the replacement of Judge Breyer does not change the balance within it, the announcement of his probable departure immediately put Washington in turmoil.
Stephen Breyer, a brilliant magistrate known for his mischievous tone and progressive values
Stephen Breyer was born in 1938 in San Francisco. A graduate of Stanford University with high honors, he studied philosophy, politics and economics at the British University of Oxford, then attended Harvard Law School.
He began his career in 1964 as an aide to Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, Minister of Labor under President Kennedy. In 1965 he joined the antitrust division of the Ministry of Justice before teaching law at Harvard University. A judge on the United States Court of Appeals in Boston from 1980 to 1994, he became in 1994 the second judge appointed to the high court by Democratic President Bill Clinton, after Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
He has defended throughout his career his opposition to the death penalty and among his other dear fights, the environment or the right to abortion.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has hinted that no member of his party will support Joe Biden’s candidate. His Democratic colleague Dick Durbin hoped that the next judge “brings diversity, experience and a balanced approach to justice” within the Court.
For his part, the Democratic leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer, paid tribute to Judge Breyer, “a model jurist” to whom “America owes a lot”, and said he was ready to organize a hearing “quickly”. confirmation for his successor.