Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, the most senior member of the U.S. Supreme Court’s liberal wing, said he will officially step down from the bench at noon on Thursday, and the court announced he will then swear in his former law clerk — Ketanji Brown Jackson — to take his place on the bench, becoming the nation’s first Black female justice.
“It has been my great honor to participate as a judge in the effort to maintain our Constitution and the Rule of Law,” Breyer wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden dated Wednesday.
Breyer’s letter to Biden was expected, as the 83-year-old justice said in January that he would leave at the end of its term. It was only Wednesday morning that the court said that Thursday would be the last day for opinions to be released.
He will be immediately replaced by Jackson, 51, who currently is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Her nomination to the Supreme Court as the first Black woman to serve as a justice was confirmed by the Senate in April.
The Supreme Court’s press office on Wednesday said Jackson will be sworn in as the court’s 104th associate justice at noon Thursday.
Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the constitutional oath to Jackson, and Breyer will administer the judicial oath in a ceremony at the court “before a small gathering of Judge Jackson’s family,” the press office said.
Breyer told Biden in his letter dated Wednesday, wrote, “It has been my great honor to participate as a judge in the effort to maintain our Constitution and the Rule of Law.”
Breyer, who is one of just three liberal justices on the nine-member Supreme Court, has served there since 1994, after being nominated by President Bill Clinton. Jackson is expected to vote with the court’s other liberals, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, more often than she is with the court’s six conservatives.
Breyer’s departure will come six days after the Supreme Court, in a major ruling, overturned its 1973 decision in the case Roe v. Wade, which established that there was a federal right to abortion.
He joined the court’s two other liberals in a scathing dissent to Friday’s decision, which gives individual states wide leeway in banning abortion outright, severely limiting termination of pregnancies or making abortion legal.
Also last week, Breyer wrote a pointed dissent to a ruling by the court’s supermajority of six justices, which struck down a New York state law requiring applicants for a license to carry a gun outside of their homes to have a “proper cause” to do so, saying it violated the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“Many States have tried to address some of the dangers of gun violence just described by passing laws that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds,” Breyer wrote. “The Court today severely burdens States’ efforts to do so.”
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