US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will step down this week, setting the stage for Ketanji Brown Jackson to start her tenure as the first Black woman on the top court.
Breyer, who had announced his retirement in January, sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday confirming that he will leave the high court as its current term ends on Thursday.
“The Court has announced that tomorrow, beginning at 10 am, it will hand down all remaining opinions ready during this Term. Accordingly, my retirement from active service… will be effective on Thursday, June 30, 2022, at noon,” Breyer wrote.
“It has been my great honor to participate as a judge in the effort to maintain our Constitution and the Rule of Law.”
The 83-year-old liberal justice was appointed to the top court in 1994 by then-Democratic President Bill Clinton.
His departure comes at a time when the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has been handing down rulings favouring right-wing positions, including expanding religious rights and revoking the constitutional right to abortion.
Biden had paid tribute to Breyer during his State of the Union address in March. “Tonight, I’d like to honour someone who has dedicated his life to serve this country: Justice Stephen Breyer – an army veteran, Constitutional scholar, and retiring Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Justice Breyer, thank you for your service,” the US president said at the time.
In his letter to Biden, Breyer said he understands that Jackson is “prepared to take the prescribed oaths to begin her service as the 116th member of this Court”.
The court’s next term is set to start early in October.
Jackson made history when she was confirmed by the US Senate in April – with Democratic politicians praising her as a qualified jurist and a trailblazer.
“This is a wonderful day, a joyous day and an inspiring day for the Senate with the Supreme Court and for the United States of America,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the day of her confirmation. “Judge Jackson is in every sense and by all measures a brilliant jurist.”
But Jackson will join a heavily conservative court, where the liberal minority has been on the dissenting side in most major contentious cases.
Five of the nine-member court have been appointed by Republican presidents, including three by Donald Trump. Jackson will join two Barack Obama appointees – Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor – on the liberal side.