Justice Breyer says his retirement from Supreme Court effective Thursday as historic term ends

Ken Tran

WASHINGTON – Associate Justice Stephen Breyer said his retirement from the Supreme Court will be effective Thursday, after the court issues its final set of rulings for this term, the court announced as it released a letter the senior-most liberal justice sent to President Joe Biden.

In January, Breyer informed Biden that he would step down at the end of the term in the summer if his replacement was confirmed by the Senate. D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed in April, and she will now be sworn in as the first Black woman to serve on the nation's highest court. 

Jackson, joined by a small gathering of her family, will be sworn in at the Supreme Court on Thursday after Breyer's retirement takes effect. She will take two oaths of office, one administered by Chief Justice John Roberts and the other by Breyer. 

Breyer's retirement comes after nearly 28 years on the court and it follows a recent series of historic rulings. 

Breyer is one of three justices of the court's liberal wing, who dissented from a ruling last week that overturned the constitutional right to an abortion established by the court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. 

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Along with Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, the three wrote last week that "With sorrow – for this court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection – we dissent."

President Joe Biden and confirmed Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson on April 8, 2022.

Breyer's retirement does not shift the balance of the court's 6-3 conservative majority.

Related:Ruling overturning Roe v. Wade sparks debate about Supreme Court's legitimacy

Making history:Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed by Senate as first Black woman on Supreme Court

"It has been my great honor to participate as a judge in the effort to maintain our Constitution and the rule of law," Breyer wrote in his letter to Biden. 

A philosophy major who clerked at the Supreme Court at the height of its push to expand civil rights under Chief Justice Earl Warren, Breyer is often described as an "optimist" and an "institutionalist" committed to the notion that the government is generally working in the best interest of the governed. He will end his tenure as the court has moved to the right.  

Breyer was President Bill Clinton's second appointment – his first was the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – and enjoyed support from centrist Republicans and Democrats when he was confirmed in 1994. He decried political portrayals of the court, dismissing the idea that justices decide cases based on the party of the president who nominated them.

Contributing: John Fritze