In an interview with CNN’s venerable Supreme Court reporter Joan Biskupic, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said he doesn’t know when he’ll retire, and that — unfortunately for the many people clamoring for him to do so — he’s enjoying his newfound role as the court’s top liberal.
Speaking to Biskupic from rural New Hampshire, where he vacations every year, Breyer outlined the two factors driving his decision on whether and when to step down. “Primarily, of course, health,” he said. “Second, the Court.”
Breyer also said that gaining seniority at the justices’ private conferences, wherein the nine justices discuss the cases in front of them with no one else present, “has made a difference to me.”
This is not exactly what liberals want to hear. Just about every Democrat who’s paying attention would like Breyer, who turns 83 in August, to step down while their party still hold the slimmest of Senate majorities. Advocacy groups, Democratic lawmakers, and Twitter keyboard warriors have urged him to act now to avoid a repeat of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose death on the bench allowed Republicans to replace her with Amy Coney Barrett. (Ginsburg’s death is the reason Breyer achieved the seniority he so appreciates.)
But the justice, who is one of three reliable liberal votes on the Court, along with Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, shows no sign of responding to the pressure. He has tried to frame the Court as a nonpartisan body that is above petty political concerns — despite much evidence to the contrary. He has hired clerks for the Court’s fall term, an indicator, if not a foolproof one, that he’s not going anywhere. His comments on Thursday are just the latest indication that he will go out on his terms, and no one else’s.