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Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer Says He Hasn't Decided When He'll Retire

Liberal groups have urged the justice to leave the bench in time for President Joe Biden to be able to name a replacement.

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer hasn’t decided when he will retire from the bench, he told CNN in an interview

The 27-year veteran of the high court also said he feels especially gratified with his role as the senior liberal on the bench.

Progressive groups have urged Breyer, who will turn 83 in August, to leave the lifetime position so President Joe Biden can name a replacement while Democrats have a majority in the Senate.

Replacing Breyer with another liberal might not change the makeup of the court, but it would preserve the status quo. The Supreme Court currently has six conservative justices to three liberal ones.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in June that it’s “highly unlikely” that he would allow Biden to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2024 if Republicans regain the Senate. 

Breyer’s comments may frustrate progressive groups with fresh memories of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg choosing not to retire under President Barack Obama. Former President Donald Trump nominated conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett to Ginsburg’s seat after her death.

“By all appearances, Justice Breyer is intent on making us all hold our collective breath that no Democratic senators fall ill over the next year in order to indulge his desire to continue serving on the Court,” Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice, a progressive advocacy group, said Thursday in a statement. 

“This new report suggests Justice Breyer’s desire to stay is based less on a high-minded notion that he might somehow preserve the Court’s reputation for independence, and more on the fact that he finds it personally fulfilling to get the chance to serve in the role of the Court’s senior liberal,” Fallon added. “In other words, this is about ego. Already, some of Justice Breyer’s clerks are starting to speak out against their former boss’ apparent decision to stay, which is a sign of how widely held the view is that Breyer is acting recklessly.”

In his interview with CNN, Breyer said that his health was the most important factor to him in making a decision, followed by the court. He also expressed satisfaction with his newfound seniority in the court after the death of Ginsburg.

In private deliberations, he said, the seniority “has made a difference to me. ... It is not a fight. It is not sarcasm. It is deliberation.”