Justice Breyer Gives First Comments On Retirement Decision Since End Of SCOTUS Term

Associate Justice Stephen Breyer sits during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on April 23, 2021. (Photo by Erin Schaff / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ERIN SCHAFF/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
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July 15, 2021 11:28 a.m.

The senior-most liberal on the Supreme Court is enjoying that distinction and doesn’t want to talk about his retirement plans.

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, 82, has served 27 years on the high court. And plenty of lefties are concerned that he’ll delay his retirement just long enough for Republicans to take back control of the Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made clear he has no qualms about blocking President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court picks, just as he did with Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia.

But in an interview with CNN, Breyer wasn’t hearing it. Asked if he had decided when to step down, Breyer simply said “no.”

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Two factors will inform the decision, he said.

“Primarily, of course, health,” Breyer told CNN. “Second, the court.”

More than the timing of his retirement, Breyer seemed to relish his role as the court’s senior-most liberal, which places him behind Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas in the speaking order during the court’s private conferences.

“You have to figure out what you’re going to say in conference to a greater extent, to get it across simply,” Breyer said. “You have to be flexible, hear other people, and be prepared to modify your views. But that doesn’t mean [going in with] a blank mind.”

The reaction to the justice’s noncommittal answers on retirement was swift.

“This just reflects a pathological disregard for other human beings at this point with the consequences made clear by Ginsburg’s death,” wrote The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer.

Ginsburg’s passing in September 2020 allowed then-President Trump to cement the current 6-3 conservative majority by nominating Amy Coney Barrett for the high court with just weeks to go in his presidency.

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