U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said Thursday that he has not made up his mind on exactly when he will retire from the bench. “I don’t want to die on the court,” he told PBS NewsHour Anchor and Managing Editor Judy Woodruff in an interview discussing his new book, “The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics.”
The 83-year-old justice, the oldest member of the court and most senior of its liberal wing, did not say if he had spoken with President Joe Biden or other justices about his retirement plans, but said he has looked at what past justices have done.
When asked if he thinks it makes a difference whether there is a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic majority in the Senate when he steps down, an important point for those in the party urging him to do so, Justice Breyer said: “Justice Scalia, Justice Rehnquist have said you do take that kind of thing into account. Others have been more reluctant to do it. So it’s in the mix.”
Breyer also weighed in on the politics of appointing federal judges, calling the appointment and confirmation processes “political.” But, what comes along with the privilege of wearing a judicial robe, Breyer said, “is that you are there not for the Democrats, not for the Republican, not for the party of the president who appointed you.”
A recent Marquette University Law School poll found that approval of the U.S. Supreme Court fell to 49 percent in September, down from 60 percent in July. Justice Breyer did not seem concerned, however. “We move on a different time frame. We have a slow time frame. I think our cases are not well decided, usually, unless we have time to think about it.” In the last month, the Court has delivered emergency decisions on immigration, eviction moratoriums and abortion. Justice Breyer and his liberal colleagues were all in the dissenting opinion in those recent decisions.
Other highlights from the interview:
On Texas’ latest abortion law: Justice Breyer recognized the real-life human consequences of the Supreme Court allowing the ban on nearly all abortions after six weeks to be put in place earlier this month. “It was an important case, even procedurally on those emergency matters, and so, four of us thought we should take more time.”
On court reform: Breyer cautioned against efforts to expand the Court. “I want people to think about it before they jump into something like that,” he told Woodruff. Breyer wrote in his book: “… a short-term victory in the great zero-sum game that our politics has become could bring about grave structural damage not only to an essential constitutional institution but also to our system of government.”
Term limits: These are a different story forBreyer. “I see no objection really to term limits if they’re long,” he told Woodruff. “You don’t want a short term because you don’t want the person in that job thinking about his next job.” He also joked that if there were a term limit, he would not have to worry about the current pressure on him to retire.
On the makeup of the court: Breyer said that it would be healthy for the court to include justices who had previously faced voters in their careers. “You don’t want all one thing or all another thing, but having a mix of backgrounds, a mix of different experiences, other things being equal, is good for the Court, in my opinion.”