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Biden delivers remarks on Supreme Court Justice Breyer’s retirement

Biden reaffirms pledge to nominate Black woman to replace Breyer

What you need to know

  • President Biden praised retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s career at a White House event today and committed to nominating the nation’s first Black woman to the court to replace him.
  • Biden said he intends to announce a nominee before the end of February.
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed that whoever Biden nominates will be confirmed with “all deliberate speed.” In the 50-50 Senate, all Democrats will need to stay united to confirm Biden’s nominee, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a potential tie in the event no Republicans break ranks.

Our live coverage has ended. Read more about the SCOTUS confirmation process here

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Here's how Biden's Supreme Court nominee selection process will work

White House press secretary Jen Psaki outlined President Biden’s process for finding a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, noting that the President has been reviewing prospective nominee bios “since last year” in preparation for a Supreme Court opening.

“Ron Klain and Dana Remus have been involved in consulting with the President, preparing bios for him, and that’s something that he’s looked at since last year,” she said.                                                                          

In White House remarks today, Biden committed to nominating the nation’s first Black female Supreme Court justice and said he expects to choose a nominee before the end of February.

Psaki listed off who will be part of the team at the White House assisting through the selection and confirmation process for a new justice, noting the “central role” Vice President Kamala Harris will play in deliberations. 

“First, the vice president will play a central role in this process, and the President intends to consult with her very closely. Obviously, she has a long history as a former attorney general, as a member of the Judiciary Committee. And he respects her opinion greatly,” Psaki said. “In addition to the vice president, Ron Klain will, of course, play a role; Dana Remus, Cedric Richmond, Paige Herwig … and Louisa Terrell,” she said.

Along with those White House advisers, Psaki said the White House intends to bring in outside expertise, adding that she expects that team to be in place prior to the final selection of a nominee. The White House, she said, will be consulting with “a range of groups” on the nomination. She plans to give more details on those groups in the coming days.

Biden, through his previous experiences in the Senate, brings with him a “recognition of the historic role that this process plays, including the importance of somebody who is imminently qualified, which he has every intention of doing, and consulting with Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.”

The President, she said, has conveyed that this will be a “rigorous process.” “(H)e will meet with potential nominees, he will study their records carefully, and he is going to take all of the advice that he can get,” she added.

She also noted that Breyer “hand delivered” his retirement letter to the President this morning.

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

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.

Manchin and Sinema previously supported Biden's court picks

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.

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

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate floor in the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 18.

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.

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

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.

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

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. 

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

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. 

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

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.

Biden says he will announce nomination before the end of February

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.

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

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.

NOW: Biden and Breyer hold White House event to mark the justice's retirement

President Biden and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer are holding an event at the White House to mark the justice’s retirement.

“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,” Biden said.

Ahead of the gathering, Breyer wrote a letter to Biden informing him of his intent to retire from the court.

Breyer’s retirement gives Biden the opportunity to nominate his first Supreme Court justice and reinforce the high court’s liberal minority. The nomination will be one of the most consequential choices of Biden’s presidency and may offer him a political lifeline ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Breyer informed Biden of his decision to retire last week, two sources familiar with the conversation told CNN. Breyer, who is 83, has faced intense pressure from the left to retire while Democrats have a clear path to confirm his replacement.

Biden’s pick to replace Breyer is expected be a younger liberal judge who could serve on the court for decades. The confirmation would not alter the Supreme Court’s ideological balance — the court has six conservative justices appointed by Republican presidents and three liberals appointed by Democrats.

Biden has vowed to nominate the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Justice Breyer formally announces retirement in letter to President Biden

Justice Stephen Breyer has written a letter to President Biden informing him of his intent to retire from the Supreme Court.

“I enormously appreciate the privilege of serving as part of the federal judicial system,” Breyer wrote. “I have found the work challenging and meaningful. My relations with each of my colleagues have been warm and friendly. Throughout, I have been aware of the great honor of participating as a judge in the effort to maintain our Constitution and the rule of law.”

He wrote that he intends his decision to take effect when the Supreme Court rises for the summer recess, assuming that his successor has been nominated and confirmed by then.

Breyer is set to appear soon alongside Biden at a White House event marking his retirement.

Manchin says he's open to supporting a nominee who is more liberal than he is

In a positive sign for the White House, Sen. Joe Manchin, a key Democratic moderate from West Virginia, told a radio station that he’s open to supporting a Supreme Court nominee more liberal than he is.

“It’s not going to change the makeup of the court,” Manchin said of a more liberal nominee. He said what’s more important is to ensure a nominee is “fair” and to gauge “the character of the person.”

“It’s not too hard to get more liberal than me. It would not bother me having a person who is sound in their thought person and who is sound in their disbursement of justice,” he said.

“As far as their philosophical beliefs, that would not prohibit me from supporting somebody,” Manchin added.

Senate Judiciary chair says White House chief of staff told him Biden hasn't settled on SCOTUS pick yet

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin said Thursday that President Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain called him yesterday morning to notify him about Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement and told him they’re “in the process” of picking a nominee and “no one’s been chosen yet.” 

Durbin added that since Biden hasn’t settled on a pick, “it’s a little early to predict the timetable” for the Judiciary hearing.

“I received a call yesterday from the President’s chief of staff, 9:30 in the morning, he told me Justice Breyer was going to retire,” said Durbin. “He asked me to keep it under my hat because they weren’t going to announce it until today. That lasted about 30 minutes before it broke in the news. And I asked Mr. Klain, ‘Do you have a nominee?’ He said, ‘We’re in the process, no one’s been chosen yet.’ So, it’s a little early to predict the timetable for this hearing.” 

Durbin made the remarks at a news conference in Chicago, Illinois, on new federal funding from the infrastructure bill.

Biden had pledged to put a Black woman on the Supreme Court. Here are some possible nominees. 

President Biden and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will hold an event soon at the White House to mark the justice’s retirement.

During the campaign trail, Biden vowed that if he were to get a vacancy he would put a Black woman on the high court.

Well before Stephen Breyer’s retirement plans became public, a short list of potential nominees had been circulating Washington and officials in the White House Counsel’s office built files on various candidates in anticipation of a potential vacancy. Now, those efforts will ramp up significantly and the President will likely hold one-on-one meetings before announcing his pick.

While the President nor the White House have announced a nominee, here are potential picks who have been on observers’ short list:

  • DC Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: Biden has already elevated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson once, appointing her last year to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which is considered the second-most powerful federal court in the country. Previously, the 51-year-old judge served on the federal district court in DC. Because of that appellate appointment, she’s already been through a vetting process that included an interview with the President himself. Fittingly, she clerked for Breyer and holds degrees from Harvard and Harvard Law School. She also served as an assistant federal public defender, making her a prime example of the Biden White House’s focus on appointing judges with backgrounds that are outside the typical prosecutor and Big Law box.
  • California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger: Kruger, now 45, was the youngest person to be appointed to the California Supreme Court when then-Gov. Jerry Brown nominated her in 2014. Kruger is intimately familiar with the Supreme Court having worked as a clerk for the late Justice John Paul Stevens and served as acting deputy solicitor general in the Obama administration. While in the Solicitor General’s office, she argued 12 cases in front of the Supreme Court representing the government. At the Justice Department, she also earned the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service, the department’s highest award for employee performance, in 2013 and 2014.
  • South Carolina US District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs: Childs, a judge on South Carolina’s federal court, is said to have a major booster in House Majority Whip James Clyburn, a Biden ally who helped deliver South Carolina for the eventual nominee in the 2020 Democratic primary. Just last month, Biden nominated Childs to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and the nomination remains pending.

Other names that have been floated:

  • District Judge Wilhelmina “Mimi” Wright, a judge on Minnesota’s federal district court whose consideration would likely please Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who sits on the Judiciary Committee.
  • Circuit Judge Eunice Lee, a former New York public defender whom Biden nominated to the Second Circuit on the recommendation of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
  • Circuit Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, an alumna of Chicago’s public defender’s office whose appointment by Biden to the Seventh Circuit was cheered by Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin of Illinois.
  • Sherrilyn Ifill, a civil rights attorney who recently announced plans to step down from her role as President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Read more about the possible nominees here.

House Majority Whip Clyburn makes pitch for South Carolina judge as SCOTUS nominee 

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said he has not spoken to President Biden or Clyburn’s top pick for the Supreme Court to replace Justice Stephen Breyer, South Carolina Judge J. Michelle Childs, since the news broke that Breyer would be retiring.

“No, I have not talked to President Biden or with Michelle Childs in the last 24 or 48 hours or even the last several days. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I talked with Michelle. I did talk with the President a couple of weeks ago,” Clyburn said on Washington Post Live.

Although Clyburn said the women on the shortlist to replace Breyer are “all great people,” he made a clear pitch for why Childs should be the judge to serve as the next justice on the Supreme Court.

The White House said yesterday that Biden stands by his commitment to nominate a Black woman to the high court, which would be a historic first.

“As it relates to who, I don’t have anything against the seven or eight names that I have seen floated as possibilities; they’re all great people. The fact of the matter is, I have been discussing Michelle Childs with the President and his people now for, I guess, at least 13 months,” Clyburn said.

Clyburn said that “she has what I call the kind of background and experiences that we ought to have, that judges and juries ought to have.”

“It is time for us to diversify the court — not just as it relates to the gender but as it relates to color as well and as it relates to backgrounds and experiences. And it would help to have somebody from the South,” Clyburn added. “She would bring a unique perspective to the Supreme Court.”

Clyburn argued that Childs could “absolutely” win Republican support, a clear metric that Biden said he’d be looking for in a nominee. Clyburn said that South Carolina Republican Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham know Childs “very well” and “have spoken highly” of her.

“If you look at the experiences, there is nobody sitting on the Supreme Court today that can tout the background, the experiences — life and professional — that Michelle Childs would bring to the court. It’s just that simple. And I think Republicans appreciate that as much as Democrats. And I’ve heard from Republicans since yesterday. They are very high on her, and not just here in South Carolina. I’ve heard as far away from Illinois,” Clyburn said.

Clyburn pushed back on the notion that Childs doesn’t have enough experience because she has yet to serve on the DC District Court, though she was just nominated to that circuit. When asked if he thought that DC Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson would be a better fit to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, Clyburn said that while he does not have anything against Jackson, he argued that “more experience doesn’t mean the best experience.”

Although Clyburn made his case for Childs, he acknowledged that this is ultimately Biden’s decision.

“I’m letting my feelings be known, and the White House can feel what they need to. And I’ll just react accordingly,” he said.

Speaking broadly, Clyburn talked about the importance of Biden nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court, especially considering his commitment to do so at the Charleston presidential debate two years ago.

“How many times have you heard it said that Black women are the backbone of the Democratic party? Well, you just can’t say it; you got to show it,” Clyburn said.

A look back at Justice Stephen Breyer's nearly 3 decades on the highest court

Then-Supreme Court nominee Judge Stephen Breyer speaks with reporters in May 1994 in the White House Rose Garden as US President Bill Clinton listens.

Justice Stephen Breyer, a consistently liberal-leaning vote on the Supreme Court, is set to announce his retirement after serving nearly 28 years.

The announcement comes after Breyer repeatedly stated that he was undecided on his retirement plans as recently as last year.

Breyer, age 83, was nominated by former President Bill Clinton in 1994 and sworn in on Aug. 3 of that year.

With an unflappable belief in the US system of government and a pragmatic view of the law, he has served nearly three decades on the bench.

Breyer has sought to focus the law on how it could work for the average citizen. He was no firebrand and was quick to say that the Supreme Court couldn’t solve all of society’s problems. He often stressed that the court shouldn’t be seen as part of the political branches but recognized that certain opinions could be unpopular.

“It is wrong to think of the court as another political institution,” Breyer told an audience at Har