Justice Stephen Breyer retiring; Biden vows to nominate Black woman to Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer submitted a letter Thursday to the White House announcing his intent to retire for the nation’s highest court.

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Breyer appeared Thursday afternoon alongside President Joe Biden at the White House, where the president praised the liberal justice as “a model public servant at a time of great division in this country.” Biden thanked Breyer for his service and vowed to nominate as his successor the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Update 12:50 p.m. EST Jan. 27: Biden said the process to choose Breyer’s successor will be “rigorous” and that he’s committed to selecting “a nominee worthy of Justice Breyer’s legacy of excellence and decency.”

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“While I have been studying candidates backgrounds in writing, I have made no decision except one: The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity, and that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court.”

During the 2020 race for the White House, Biden pledged to nominate a Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, if given the opportunity.

“I will keep that commitment,” Biden said Thursday. “It’s long overdue, in my view.”

The president said he plans to name a nominee before the end of February.

Update 12:40 p.m. EST Jan. 27: Biden called Thursday ‘sort of a bittersweet day for me” while delivering remarks about Breyer’s decision to retire after nearly 28 years on the Supreme Court.

“Justice Breyer and I go back a long way, all the way back to the mid-70s when he first came onto the judiciary committee, but that’s another story,” the president said. “I’m here today to express the nation’s gratitude to Justice Stephen Breyer for his remarkable career in public service and his clear-eyed commitment to making our country’s laws work for its people.”

Breyer submitted a letter to the White House on Thursday confirming reports that he plans to retire in the summer, giving Biden his first chance to appoint someone to the Supreme Court.

Update 12:30 p.m. EST Jan. 27: In a letter addressed to the president shared Thursday by the Supreme Court, Breyer said he plans to retire “when the court rises for the summer recess this year ... assuming that by then my successor has been nominated and confirmed.”

“I enormously appreciate the privilege of serving as part of the federal judicial system -- nearly 14 years as a court of appeals judge and nearly 28 years as a member of the Supreme Court,” the 83-year-old wrote. “My relations with each of my colleagues have been warm and friendly. Throughout, I have been aware of the great honor of participating as a judge in the effort to maintain our Constitution and the rule of law.”

>> Read Breyer’s letter

Original report: The president’s remarks will come one day after reports surfaced that Breyer, who has served on the Supreme Court since being appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, planned to announce his retirement. White House officials declined to confirm the reports on Wednesday, deferring to Breyer.

>> Related: Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer retiring, reports say

The 83-year-old’s retirement will give Biden his first chance to name a justice to the nation’s highest court. During the race for the White House in 2020, Biden said he planned to nominate a Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court if he was given the opportunity. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that the president “certainly stands by that.”

Before serving on the Supreme Court, Breyer served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit after being appointed to the court in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter. He served as chief justice of the court from 1990 to 1994.