01.26.22

Comment On The Retirement Of Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer

Justice Breyer, confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1994, will leave behind a rich legacy when he retires.  He has been one of the Supreme Court’s finest unifiers, routinely forging consensus between differing viewpoints and legal philosophies on the Court.  He believes deeply that the Supreme Court should not become mired in politics and has served as a beacon of judicial independence even amid increasingly partisan times.  He will be remembered as a soft-spoken and studious and humble champion of the rule of law.

I have known Justice Breyer since his days as a counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he served with distinction.  He won admiration from Republican and Democratic members and staff for his earnest desire to find common ground between the parties and to forge friendships regardless of politics.  It is this approach that led him to be confirmed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in an overwhelming vote of 80 to 10 in the Senate.  And it is this same approach that ultimately led to his confirmation to the Supreme Court on an even stronger vote of 87 to 9.

Justice Breyer has also been a fierce guardian of the Constitution and Americans’ hard-won rights.  He authored the Court’s 7 to 2 decision in 2021 rejecting a politicized effort to strike down critical pillars of the Affordable Care Act.  He authored the Court’s 8 to 1 opinion in 2020 protecting fundamental free speech rights of students.  And he penned the Court’s 5 to 3 decision in 2016 striking down a Texas law imposing unconstitutional restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.  In each of these decisions, he brought along justices from both ends of the ideological spectrum.  And yet in each of these decisions, he did not compromise his core beliefs about the Constitution and the law.  That has been the Justice Breyer way.

Justice Breyer will no doubt continue to help shape the Court’s jurisprudence for the remainder of his tenure.  When he retires, every Senator must be ready to fulfill our constitutional duty to expeditiously consider President Biden’s nominee to fill this vacancy. Senate Democrats must not allow the kind of obstruction of a President’s nominee that we saw with Merrick Garland. The American people deserve a complete Supreme Court to consider the pressing issues facing our nation today.  The Senate must not delay in meeting our obligation to ensure that our nation’s highest court is operating at full strength.

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