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Breyer to retire, giving Biden first Supreme Court pick of his presidency

Here's what happens after Justice Stephen G. Breyer retires from the Supreme Court – and how President Biden will pick a successor. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
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Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer plans to retire at the end of the current term, according to a person familiar with his plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Breyer, 83, is one of three liberal justices — and the oldest justice — on the Supreme Court. He had been under unprecedented pressure to retire, and his departure will give President Biden an opportunity to nominate a replacement to reinforce the court’s liberal minority while Democrats have narrow control of the Senate.

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a news briefing Wednesday that Biden stands by his previously stated commitment to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday vowed that Biden’s nominee would receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee and would be “considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed.”

Here’s what to know

  • The White House repeatedly kept its distance Wednesday after news broke of Breyer’s retirement. Both Psaki and Biden declined multiple times to give more details about nominating a replacement, saying they would wait for a formal announcement from Breyer.
  • On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to nominate an African American woman to the Supreme Court for the first time if he had the opportunity. There have been two Black men on the court — Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas — and five women, including three current members of the court: Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett.
  • The two women most often mentioned as possibilities for Biden are California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former Breyer Supreme Court clerk who in June was confirmed to join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.