Progressive US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will leave office at the end of the current session at the end of June, several US media reported on Wednesday (January 26th). The magistrate is expected to announce his decision to the White House shortly, according to anonymous sources cited by NBC, CNN and NPR radio.
His retirement, at 83, should allow Democratic President Joe Biden to choose his successor and obtain his confirmation in the Senate before the midterm elections in November. Mr. Biden has promised that, given the chance, he would appoint a black woman to the nation’s highest court. Magistrate Ketanji Brown Jackson, of the Washington Federal Court of Appeals, is one of the names circulating insistently.
Appointments to the Supreme Court, which arbitrates most major social issues in the United States, have been the subject of fierce political battles for several years. During his tenure, Republican Donald Trump brought in three judges, out of a total of nine, which firmly anchored the institution in conservatism. Their influence has been particularly felt since September, with a sharp shift to the right. The temple of law has invalidated the vaccination obligation in large companies decreed by Joe Biden and seems ready to reconsider the right to abortion and to expand the right to bear arms.
Opposition to the death penalty and defense of abortion
Dean of the Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer left a deep mark on American progressive doctrine. He served in the institution for more than a quarter of a century, alongside his eight predominantly conservative peers. Being part of the minority never took away from this brilliant magistrate his joviality nor the passion with which he stubbornly defended his convictions, first and foremost his opposition to the death penalty. Among his other dear fights: the environment or the right to abortion.
Known for his wit and his great culture, Stephen Breyer became in 1994 the second judge appointed to the high court by Democratic President Bill Clinton, after Ruth Bader Ginsburg, feminist icon who died in 2020 at the age of 87. . Just like “RBG”, over chiseled arguments, Stephen Breyer has established himself as a pillar of the temple of American law, responsible for ensuring the constitutionality of laws.
The Constitution, precisely, Judge Breyer always carries a thin annotated copy in the inside pocket of his jacket. But the other books are never far from this native of San Francisco, author of several books on freedoms or international law.
Admirer of Proust and Stendhal
This philosophy buff is undoubtedly the most Francophile of American judges. Fluent in French, he sprinkles his speeches with references to Proust or Stendhal. He also likes to quote the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero – “In time of war, the laws are silent” – to recall that, during the Second World War, 70,000 Americans of Japanese origin had been interned without reason in camps.
After a prestigious academic career that saw him collect diplomas at Stanford University, the British faculty of Oxford and Harvard Law School, Stephen Breyer began his career in 1964 as an assistant to the Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. A time specialist in the fight against trusts, the lawyer was also an adviser to the prosecutor in the Watergate scandal.
Married to a psychologist from the British aristocracy, with whom he had three children, Judge Breyer taught at Harvard until 1980. He then remained in New England, appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the court of call from Boston, which he would eventually lead.
A man of consensus, Stephen Breyer would probably have obtained his appointment to the Supreme Court sooner if he had not had his image tarnished by revelations about his omission to contribute to the pension funds for a domestic worker. This affair delayed his arrival at the high court, whose independence he then stubbornly defended, despite the recurring criticisms which make it a politicized body.