Breyer’s center-left path on the Supreme Court, in two charts

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Regardless of which jurist President Biden picks to fill the Supreme Court seat Justice Stephen G. Breyer plans to vacate this summer, the court will retain its six-seat conservative majority. But the decision, one of the most consequential a president can make, offers Biden an opportunity to give someone of his ideological choosing a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest court.

More liberal

More conservative

Breyer

−4

−2

0

2

4

Martin-Quinn scores

Source: Data from Andrew D. Martin, Washington

University in St. Louis and Kevin Quinn, University

of Michigan

More liberal

More conservative

Barrett

Roberts

Alito

Kagan

Sotomayor

Thomas

Gorsuch

Breyer

Kavanaugh

−4

−2

0

2

4

Martin-Quinn scores

Source: Data from Andrew D. Martin, Washington University

in St. Louis and Kevin Quinn, University of Michigan

More liberal

More conservative

Barrett

Kagan

Sotomayor

Roberts

Thomas

Alito

Gorsuch

Breyer

Kavanaugh

−4

−2

0

2

4

Martin-Quinn scores

Source: Data from Andrew D. Martin, Washington University in St. Louis and Kevin Quinn, University of Michigan

Breyer has followed a center-left ideology during nearly three decades on the court, according to a measure of voting records called Martin-Quinn scores. The scores place Supreme Court justices on a left-right scale based on how often they vote with each other.

Breyer maintained center-left ideology during his tenure

The median Supreme Court justice is more conservative now than in recent years, according to a measure of justice voting records called Martin-Quinn scores.

More liberal

More conservative

Breyer

’95

Median

justice

00

O’Connor

Rehnquist

’05

Souter

Stevens

’10

Scalia

Kennedy

’15

Kavanaugh

Ginsburg

Gorsuch

’20

Sotomayor

Kagan

Roberts

Barrett

Alito

Thomas

Breyer

−4

−2

0

2

4

Source: Data from Andrew D. Martin,

Washington University in St. Louis

and Kevin Quinn, University of Michigan

Breyer maintained center-left ideology during his tenure

The median Supreme Court justice is more conservative now than in recent years, according to a measure of justice voting records called Martin-Quinn scores.

More liberal

More conservative

Breyer

1995

Median

justice

2000

Rehnquist

O’Connor

2005

Souter

Stevens

2010

Scalia

2015

Kennedy

Ginsburg

Gorsuch

Roberts

2020

Breyer

Sotomayor

Kagan

Kavanaugh

Barrett

Alito

Thomas

−4

−2

0

2

4

Source: Data from Andrew D. Martin, Washington University in St. Louis and Kevin Quinn, University of Michigan

Breyer maintained center-left ideology during his tenure

The median Supreme Court justice is more conservative now than in recent years, according to a measure of justice voting records called Martin-Quinn scores.

More liberal

More conservative

Breyer

1995

Median

justice

2000

Rehnquist

O’Connor

2005

Souter

Stevens

2010

Scalia

2015

Kennedy

Ginsburg

Gorsuch

Roberts

2020

Breyer

Sotomayor

Thomas

Kagan

Kavanaugh

Alito

Barrett

−4

−2

0

2

4

Source: Data from Andrew D. Martin, Washington University in St. Louis and Kevin Quinn, University of Michigan

Breyer was a consistent liberal vote on issues like abortion rights, the environment and health-care coverage. He drifted slightly left during his tenure, according to the measure. The court’s conservative majority, recently bolstered by three Trump appointments, has been a constant during Breyer’s time on the bench.

Breyer “is a pragmatist who believes deeply that our Constitution and our government should work for the American people, and those beliefs in turn have shaped the way he thinks about the role of the courts in our system of government,” Brianne Gorod, a former law clerk to Breyer and now chief counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center, said in a statement Wednesday.

Breyer’s legacy: A centrist, pragmatic problem-solver and defender of the court’s reputation

Republicans, who jammed through a third conservative Trump justice just eight days before the 2020 election, over the objections of Democrats and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, are demanding that Biden nominate a centrist to replace Breyer. They appear powerless to block Biden’s pick in a Senate split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Harris as the tiebreaking vote.

Biden has set a historic benchmark for his eventual pick, promising during his campaign and recommitting Thursday to nominate the first Black woman to the bench. Where the next Supreme Court justice will fall ideologically is less apparent. He said he will nominate a candidate by the end of February.

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