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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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.
12:45 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

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

From CNN's Kate Sullivan and Betsy Klein

(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

12:36 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Justice Breyer formally announces retirement in letter to President Biden

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

Erin Schaff/Pool/Getty Images
Erin Schaff/Pool/Getty Images

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.

12:28 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

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

From CNN's Manu Raju

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.

12:24 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

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

From Ali Zaslav, Manu Raju and Ted Barrett 

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.

12:17 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

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

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue and Tierney Sneed

AP/Getty Images/ NC Judicial Branch
AP/Getty Images/ NC Judicial Branch

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.

12:17 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

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

From CNN's Annie Grayer

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.