Biden delivers remarks on Supreme Court Justice Breyer's retirement

By Maureen Chowdhury, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 4:11 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022
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4:11 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Justice Breyer told Supreme Court colleagues about retirement after news broke, source tells CNN

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer informed his colleagues on the bench of his retirement plans after the news broke on Wednesday, a source familiar with the discussions tells CNN.

Breyer told some of the justices in person, and some on the phone, the source said.

Breyer told at least one colleague he hadn’t wanted that person to learn of his retirement through media reports, according to another source familiar with the matter.

Breyer appeared at the White House today after telling President Biden in a letter that he will retire at the end of this term as long as his successor has been confirmed.

3:37 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Manchin and Sinema previously supported Biden's court picks

From CNN's Tierney Sneed

Whatever issues Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have caused for President Biden's legislative agenda, their records on Biden's judicial confirmation efforts are a positive signal for the President as he seeks to replace the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.

Neither Manchin nor Sinema has voted against any of Biden's lower court nominees so far — including Biden's picks for the federal judiciary who have attracted significant Republican heat.

Manchin and Sinema stuck with the rest of the Democratic caucus when Republicans were united against the confirmation of Jennifer Sung to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals — a confirmation that required the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris to move forward.

Manchin in particular has attracted liberal ire for holding up Biden's Build Back Better spending plan, and both the West Virginia Democrat and Sinema voted against Democrats' efforts to end the use of the 60-vote filibuster on voting rights legislation. But the filibuster isn't in play for Supreme Court votes anymore.

Since Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell pushed through a change in filibuster rules in 2017 to confirm Neil Gorsuch, it just requires a party-line, simple majority vote to advance a Supreme Court nominee.

In the 50-50 Senate, all Democrats need to do is stay united, with Harris breaking a potential tie in the event no Republicans break ranks.

Read the full story here.

2:24 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

McConnell on SCOTUS nomination: Biden "must not outsource this important decision to the radical left"

From CNN's Clare Foran and Sam Fossum

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate floor in the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 18.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate floor in the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 18. Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement Thursday on Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement and urged President Biden against “outsourcing” his decision on a replacement to the “radical left.”

“Looking ahead — the American people elected a Senate that is evenly split at 50-50. To the degree that President Biden received a mandate, it was to govern from the middle, steward our institutions, and unite America,” McConnell wrote.

He continued, “The President must not outsource this important decision to the radical left. The American people deserve a nominee with demonstrated reverence for the written text of our laws and our Constitution.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki criticized McConnell's statement and warning.

"I think we should be clear about some of the games that we're already seeing indications of out there. We have not mentioned a single name, we have not put out a list. The president has made very clear that he has not made a selection. If anyone is saying that they plan to characterize whoever he nominates, after thorough consideration with both parties, as 'radical' before they know literally anything about who she is, they just obliterated their own credibility," Psaki told reporters at the White House on Thursday. 

She added that the President plans to work with members of both parties "in good faith." 

"Our intention is to not play games. The President's intention is to consult with members of both parties. And his intention is to nominate a qualified candidate who after completing a rigorous is worthy of the excellence and decency of Breyer's legacy," she continued.

2:24 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Breyer says future generations will uphold US "experiment" of democracy

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal and Adrienne Vogt

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer reflected on his role during nearly his 30-year career on the highest court in the US — which he called a “complicated country” — praising the “rule of law” and ultimately concluding that he thinks the “American experiment” will succeed, in remarks from the White House announcing his retirement from the bench.

He began his brief remarks by thanking President Biden for his “terribly nice” introduction, before turning to what he said was the speech he generally gives to groups of high school students. 

“This is a complicated country,” Breyer said. “There's more than 330 million people, and my mother used to say it's every race, it's every religion — and she would emphasize this — and its every point of view possible.”
“And it's a kind of miracle when you sit there and see all those people in front of you,” Breyer said. “People that are so different in what they think, and yet they've decided to help solve their major differences under law.” 

Breyer said that while people often “don’t agree,” the country is “based on human rights, democracy and so forth.”

Breyer said that both Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington both deeply believed in the "experiment" of democracy. He quoted the opening lines of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Breyer said he believes the next generation will make sure democracy endures.

"You know who will see whether that experiment works? It's you, my friend. It's you, Mr. high school student. It's you, Mr. college student. It's you, Mr. law school students. It's us, but it's you. It's that next generation, and the one after that. My grandchildren and their children. They'll determine whether the experiment still works and, of course, I'm an optimist and I am pretty sure it will," he said. 
"Does it surprise you that that's the thought that comes into my mind today? I don't know, but thank you," he said, closing his remarks.

1:14 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Civil rights leaders say Biden nominating a Black woman justice doesn’t give him a pass on voting rights

From CNN's MJ Lee

When news broke of Justice Stephen Breyer’s expected retirement on Wednesday, one of the biggest questions President Biden confronted right away was whether he planned to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court as he had promised during his presidential campaign.

Biden confirmed Thursday during remarks with Breyer that he will nominate a Black woman to the court.

But for some civil rights leaders, that was a question they already knew the answer to. 

Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton said he recalls that in at least one private setting since Biden took office, the President reiterated to Sharpton his commitment to his pledge of appointing a Black woman to the bench. 

“He brought it up that … he’s going to keep his word if the opening comes up,” Sharpton said. 

Sharpton, who said he has already reached out to the White House since the news of Breyer’s retirement broke on Wednesday, said he planned to push the White House to keep pushing on voting rights reform. 

“We’re glad to have a Black woman on the bench that’s qualified but that doesn’t mitigate voting rights,” he said. “Voting rights and police reform must be dealt with. They’ve not checked the box.”

Biden’s campaign promise was such a “bold commitment,” said Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League, that he too, has not questioned whether the President would ultimately keep it. Morial said one of his primary concerns was that the White House move with speed through the confirmation process. 

Both Sharpton and Morial told CNN that for now, they did not plan to publicly make an endorsement of any candidate, saying that the President should be given space to come to what will ultimately be his final decision. 

“It is fair he should be given room to make the selection as long as she is qualified,” Sharpton said. “As long as he keeps his word, we should not get into an internal fight on which one of the picks, when we’ve never had a Black woman. We should not undo what could be a great moment.”

Morial echoed that it would be “counter-productive to get into the game of speculation because many of the names that had been recommended are acceptable.”

“I’m not recommending anyone at this time because I think that the President should be given the prerogative to make a decision,” he added. 

1:20 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Biden says he'll announce his SCOTUS nominee by the end of February. Here's what would happen next. 

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's retirement leaves an empty seat to fill on the nine-member bench of the highest court in the US.

President Biden said today he intends to announce his nominee by the end of February.

Once that occurs, there will next be a formal confirmation process, including public hearings. There's a committee vote and a Senate floor vote.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday vowed that whoever Biden nominates for the court will be confirmed with "all deliberate speed." Biden will have to nominate someone who can safely get 50 votes in the Senate, as Democrats currently hold only the most narrow of majorities in the chamber.

The President hopes a swift process will lead to a confirmed justice by spring.

Here's how all of this will work:

What happens after the nomination?

There will be hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin.

How long does the process usually take?

It varies. Justice Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in on Oct. 26, 2020, a week before the 2020 election, after former President Trump nominated her a month beforehand following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death. Here's a deeper look into how long it has taken for past justices to be confirmed.

How many votes does it take to confirm a new justice?

It takes only a simple majority. Vice President Kamala Harris can break a 50-50 tie.

How long do most Supreme Court justices serve?

The average length of a Supreme Court tenure has grown a lot. Harvard Business Review did an actuarial analysis in 2018 and argued the average tenure over the next 100 years will grow to 35 years. It was 17 over the previous 100 years. Breyer was sworn in by former President Clinton in 1994.

Read more about the process here.

CNN's Zachary B. Wolf Ariane de Vogue, Kate Sullivan and Betsy Klein contributed reporting to this post. 

2:04 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Biden commits to nominating a Black woman to be the next SCOTUS justice

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

President Biden committed to nominating a Black woman to succeed Justice Stephen Breyer as the next justice for the United States Supreme Court.

"Our process is going to be rigorous. I will select the nominee worthy of Justice Breyer's legacy of excellence and decency," he said Thursday. "The person I will nominate will be someone of extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity. And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court."

He said it's "long overdue."

"I made that commitment during the campaign for President, and I will keep that commitment," he added.

Biden said he hasn't made any decision yet, but he has been studying candidates' backgrounds.

1:02 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Biden says he will announce nomination before the end of February

(Andrew Harnik/AP)
(Andrew Harnik/AP)

President Biden said he will make his choice for Supreme Court nominee before the end of February.

"I have made no choice at this point. Once I select a nominee, I'll ask the Senate to move promptly on my choice. In the end, I will nominate a historic candidate, someone who is worthy of Justice Breyer's legacy, and someone who, like Justice Breyer, will provide incredible service on the United States Supreme Court," he said.

Biden has vowed to nominate a Black woman to the highest court in the US.

12:56 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Biden thanks Breyer for his "distinguished" career on the Supreme Court

(Andrew Harnik/AP)
(Andrew Harnik/AP)

President Biden praised Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's legacy on the high court ahead of Breyer's expected formal retirement announcement.

"I'm here today to express the nation's gratitude to Justice Stephen Breyer for his remarkable career in public service and his clear-eyed commitment to making our country's laws work for its people. And our gratitude extends to Justice Breyer's family, for being partners in his decades of public service. Particularly I want to thank his wife, Dr. Joanna Breyer, who is here today and who has stood by him for nearly six decades with her fierce intellect, good humor and enormous heart. I want to thank you," Biden said.

Biden said it was an "honor" to confirm Breyer to the US Court of Appeals in 1980 and then to the US Supreme Court in 1994.

"In 1994, I got to preside as chairman of the Senate judiciary committee over his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. We were joking with one another when he walked in. Did we ever think he'd have served decades on the court and I'd be President of the United States the day he came in to retire? ... I won't say what he said, I'm joking, but I was proud and grateful to be there at the start of his distinguished career on the Supreme Court and I'm very proud to be here on the announcement of his retirement," Biden said.