‘Hard to know exactly when’: Justice Breyer addresses retirement from the Supreme Court

While President Donald Trump’s first term has included the addition of three justices to the Supreme Court, solidifying its conservative majority, a future Democratic president could have an opportunity to similarly redefine the court.

According to recent reports, Justice Stephen Breyer is considering retirement “eventually,” which could mean during the prospective administration of Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

“Politically controversial”

The 82-year-old Breyer’s retirement does not appear to be imminent, however, so it does not appear that his replacement would be named before the end of Trump’s current term.

If Biden’s media-declared win is upheld next month, progressives can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief in the knowledge that if Breyer steps down within the next four years, he will likely be replaced with a younger and reliably liberal justice.

Speculation surrounding his retirement came during a recent interview with Slate magazine that covered a range of topics — including his age and the impact of the ongoing pandemic. Near the end of the conversation, Breyer responded to a question about his prior support of term limits for judges and even Supreme Court justices.

Asked whether his position was an attempt to depoliticize the court or merely an effort to rid the court system of older judges, he responded: “Well, I can’t answer this question because it is too close to something that is politically controversial.”

Nevertheless, Breyer did offer some personal, albeit vague, perspective on his future.

“We’re doing our normal court work”

“I mean, eventually I’ll retire, sure I will,” he added. “And it’s hard to know exactly when.”

Breyer also addressed the challenges that COVID-19 has presented for the nation’s highest court. His remarks on the matter came in response to a question regarding any new hobbies he might have picked up while working remotely from home much of the year.

“The thing that makes that difficult is we’re doing our normal court work,” he said. “In fact, COVID cases come along, and there are a few more of them that we have to decide quickly.”

He noted that the court has “a telephone that is secure” through which justices can consider oral arguments.

“People have to listen harder and be more direct in their questioning — which is good,” Breyer said. “But all of that takes time, and we have to write opinions.”

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