Progressives call on Justice Stephen Breyer to retire amid McConnell’s threats to block future Supreme Court nominees

mitch mcconnell stephen breyer
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer

  • Progressives are calling on Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to retire.
  • “For the good of the country, now is the time to step aside,” an ad that ran in Politico read.
  • The call comes after Sen. Mitch McConnell said he would block future nominees to the court.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Progressives have mounted a pressure campaign to get Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer off the bench while the Senate is still under Democratic control, which would clear the way for President Joe Biden to appoint his successor.

Eighteen legal academics endorsed an ad set to run in the New York Times on Friday, urging the 82-year-old Breyer to step down to avoid a possible scenario in which Republicans win the Senate in 2022 and block future judicial nominees put forth by Biden.

“It is time for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to announce his intent to retire,” reads the letter, signed by scholars at Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, the University of California-Berkeley School of Law, among others. “Breyer is a remarkable jurist, but with future control of a closely divided Senate uncertain, it is best for the country that President Biden have the opportunity to nominate a successor without delay.”

The news site Politico ran a full-page ad signed by more than a dozen major advocacy groups on Wednesday, which likewise called on Breyer to retire. Demand Justice, Women’s March, Black Lives Matter, Working Families Party and Sunrise Movement were among the 13 progressive organizations that signed on to the statement, first reported by The Huffington Post.

“If Breyer were replaced by an additional ultra-conservative justice, an even further-right Supreme Court would leave our democracy and the rights of marginalized communities at even greater risk,” the groups said in the ad.

“For the good of the country, now is the time to step aside,” the ad concludes.

demand justice stephen breyer ad
Full-page ad endorsed by 13 progressive groups urging Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to step down.

Renewed calls for Breyer’s retirement come in response to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell shutting down hopes for Biden to fill a potential Supreme Court vacancy if Republicans regain the Senate next year. In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday, the GOP leader said it is “highly unlikely” that he would allow Biden to confirm a justice should a court seat open up under his Senate majority leadership.

Alarmed by that possibility, progressives are demanding that Breyer, the oldest Supreme Court justice, leave the bench.

“Anyone who still doubted that Stephen Breyer not retiring could end in disaster should pay attention to Mitch McConnell’s recent comments,” Demand Justice Executive Director Brian Fallon said in a statement. “If Republicans regain control of the Senate before Breyer’s replacement is confirmed, the Court’s legitimacy and our democracy will be at even greater risk.”

McConnell’s blocking of Garland: ‘The single most consequential thing I’ve done’

After Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, McConnell famously blocked then-President Barack Obama’s pick to replace him, Merrick Garland.

The top Republican denied Garland a hearing or vote for his confirmation, leaving the seat empty until President Donald Trump won the 2016 election and took office. As Senate majority leader, McConnell advanced Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, to the Supreme Court in April 2017 – more than a year after the vacancy opened up.

The move sparked outrage among Democrats, yet McConnell has lauded the effort as “the single most consequential thing I’ve done in my time as majority leader of the Senate.”

Under Trump, McConnell ushered in two more Supreme Court justices, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, cementing a 6-3 conservative majority on the bench. The newly appointed justices replaced retired Justice Anthony Kennedy and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, respectively.

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Seventh U.S. Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at the U.S. Capitol during a series of meetings with senators on Sept. 29 in preparation for her confirmation hearing.

McConnell is now signaling that if the GOP takes back the Senate next year and he once again becomes majority leader in 2023, he would rely on the same tactic to prevent a Biden nominee for the Supreme Court from moving forward.

“McConnell isn’t just saying the quiet part out loud – he’s shouting it in the face of Justice Breyer and Congressional Democrats and daring them to do something about it,” Aaron Belkin, director of Take Back the Court, another progressive group that endorsed the ad, said in a statement to Insider.

“At this point Democrats only have two choices: expand the Court or accept that Republicans will get to make the rules in perpetuity no matter how unpopular they are,” he added.

Breyer isn’t commenting publicly

Since Biden was sworn in and Democrats won the Senate in January, progressives have called for Breyer’s retirement to ensure that a new liberal justice will sit on the bench for decades to come.

Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, Breyer has served for 27 years on the nation’s highest court. The current Supreme Court term ends in just a few weeks but Breyer has not yet publicly weighed in on his retirement.

Recently, he stressed the importance of having an independent judiciary, potentially suggesting that he won’t make a decision based on politics.

“My experience of more than 30 years as a judge … has shown me that once men and women take the judicial oath – they take that oath to heart,” Breyer said during a virtual lecture in April at Harvard Law School. “They are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment.”

“It is wrong to think of the court as just another political institution and it is doubly wrong to think of its members as junior league politicians,” he continued.

Some left-leaning congressional Democrats have also expressed their support for Breyer’s retirement in recent days. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York on Sunday told CNN that she agreed with fellow New York Rep. Mondaire Jones, who said Breyer should leave at the end of the court’s term.

Jones, a Democratic freshman, became the first member of Congress earlier this year to publicly urge Breyer to retire. Following McConnell’s comments this week, Jones said that “it has never been more urgent” for the justice to step down.

“It is good to see even more progressive leaders step forward to say that Breyer needs to step down now to protect his legacy,” Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice, said in a statement.

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki conducts the daily news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on June 03, 2021 in Washington, DC. Psaki faced questions about the ongoing negotiations between the Biden Administration and Congress over infrastructure and other topics.

Biden also faces pressure to fill a Supreme Court seat of his choice, previously promising on the campaign trail to put the first Black woman on the bench during his tenure. Yet White house press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in April that the president would not push Breyer to announce his retirement.

“He believes that’s a decision Justice Breyer will make when he decides it’s time to no longer serve on the Supreme Court,” she said.

Progressives argue that another conservative justice on the court would tilt its ideological balance even further to the right and bring decades of jurisprudence that may threaten their priorities, which include universal health care, voting rights, LGTBQ+ protections, and other issues.

“Leaving this Supreme Court seat up to Democrats’ chances in 2022 is dangerous and would threaten the lives of women, immigrants, a stable climate and the future of our generation,” Sunrise Movement said in a statement to Insider.

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AOC: I’m ‘inclined to say yes’ that Justice Stephen Breyer should retire at the end of the Supreme Court’s current term

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said she agreed Justice Stephen Breyer should retire from the Supreme Court.
  • New York Rep. Mondaire Jones previously called on Breyer to retire from the court.
  • “I believe that we should protect our Supreme Court, and that that should absolutely be a consideration,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Sunday said she agreed Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer should retire at the end of the court’s current term.

During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez was asked whether she agreed with comments made earlier this year by her colleague, New York Rep. Mondaire Jones, who called on Breyer to retire.

“There’s no question that Justice Breyer, for whom I have great respect, should retire at the end of this term. My goodness, have we not learned our lesson?” Jones told Cheddar in April.

“I believe Representative Jones has a point,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday.

The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September 2020 at the age of 87, had received calls to retire before former President Barrack Obama so he could’ve nominated a replacement in case a Republican won in 2016.

Ginsburg a year before her death spoke out against critics who criticized her for staying on the court.

“When that suggestion is made, I ask the question: Who do you think the president could nominate that could get through the Republican Senate? Who you would prefer on the court than me?” Ginsburg said at a September 2019 event, according to CNBC.

Ocasio-Cortez said she needed to give more thought to the issue but said she ultimately believed that Breyer should retire from the court.

“I would give more thought to it, but I’m inclined to say yes,” she said.

The court’s current term is over at the end of the month.

Breyer was appointed to the court in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. At 82, Breyer is the oldest judge on the court.

During his one term in office, President Donald Trump appointed three justices to the court. All of his nominees were confirmed by the Senate. In 2017, President Donald Trump nominated Justice Neil Gorsuch to the court to fill the seat that opened when Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016.

And in 2018, Trump nominated Justice Brett Kavanaugh to fill the seat vacated by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired that year.

Then, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September 2020 while she was still serving on the court, Trump quickly nominated Justice Amy Coney Barrett to replace her. After a contentious confirmation hearing, Barrett too was confirmed to the court.

The court now has a 6-3 conservative majority, causing concerns among progressives as issues like abortion make their way before the court. As Insider previously reported, Senate Democrats have been largely silent on whether Breyer should retire under Biden’s current term.

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Republicans blew up after a Democratic congressman accused them of spreading ‘racist trash’ in a debate over giving Washington, DC, statehood

mondaire jones
Rep. Mondaire Jones.

  • GOP lawmakers erupted after Rep. Mondaire Jones accused them of spreading “racist trash.”
  • The argument came as the House was debating a bill to grant Washington, DC, statehood.
  • Jones withdrew his comments but went on to say the GOP was scared its “white supremacist politics” wouldn’t work in DC.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Republican lawmakers blew up on Thursday after Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones accused the GOP of spreading “racist trash” during a heated debate over a bill to grant Washington, DC, statehood.

“I’ve had enough of my colleagues’ racist insinuations that somehow, the people of Washington, DC, are incapable or even unworthy of our democracy,” Jones said on the House floor.

He then called out Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton for saying DC wouldn’t be a “well-rounded, working class state.”

“I had no idea there were so many syllables in the word ‘white,'” Jones said.

He also pointed out Republican Rep. Jody Hice’s claim that Washington, DC, does not deserve statehood because it doesn’t have a landfill.

“My goodness, with all the racist trash my colleagues have brought to this debate, I can see why they’re worried about having a place to put it,” Jones continued, as Republicans could be heard objecting to his comments. “The truth is, there is no good faith argument for disenfranchising over 700,000 people, Mr. Speaker, most of whom are people of color.”

As Jones spoke, several Republican lawmakers interrupted to call for a point of order, and Maryland Rep. Andy Harris asked for Jones to withdraw his comments, to which Jones agreed.

But he went on to say the GOP’s “desperate objections” to HR 51, the DC statehood bill, “are about fear that in DC, their white supremacist politics will no longer play, fear that soon enough, white supremacist politics won’t work anywhere in America, fear that if they don’t rig our democracy, they will not win.”

The House eventually voted along party lines to pass HR 51, in a vote of 216 in favor to 208 opposed. The White House also signaled its support for the measure on Tuesday, saying in a statement, “For far too long, the more than 700,000 people of Washington, D.C. have been deprived of full representation in the U.S. Congress.”

It continued: “This taxation without representation and denial of self-governance is an affront to the democratic values on which our Nation was founded.”

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New poll indicates most Americans want to end lifetime appointments for Supreme Court justices

Supreme Court building
The US Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, is seen at sunset.

With congressional Democrats and Republicans seemingly in a perpetual state of battles over the judiciary, a recent poll shows the American public in favor of curbing lifetime appointments for Supreme Court justices, while displaying less enthusiasm toward other judicial reforms.

A Reuters/Ipsos national opinion poll conducted in mid-April showed that 63% of respondents supported term limits for Supreme Court justices, while only 22% of respondents supported lifetime appointments.

Supreme Court justices currently have lifetime appointments.

The poll also showed that 38% of respondents supported an expansion of the court from nine to 13 members, while 42% opposed the idea.

The court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, currently has a 6-3 conservative majority.

The importance of Supreme Court appointments for any president cannot be overstated – it is a chance to make an ideological mark on the highest court in the country and decisions handed down from the court are consequential for virtually every American citizen and can reverberate for generations.

Read more: Imagine a 20-car motorcade taking you to dinner. That’s the White House bubble Joe Biden now finds himself living in.

Former President Donald Trump was able to install three conservative jurists – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett – over the course of his single term in office.

President Joe Biden has not yet been able to make an appointment to the high court, but this past week, Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones of New York said that Stephen Beyer should retire from the court at the end of the current Supreme Court term.

Jones is wary of a liberal-leaning justice staying on the court and preventing a Democratic president from nominating a successor in the event of a death, a scenario that occurred last year when liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away during Trump’s tenure.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity for President Biden to appoint and for the Senate to confirm jurists on the Supreme Court who are not hostile to our democracy and will adjudicate cases that will protect and preserve voting rights and will respect the will of Congress, frankly,” he said.

Last week, he unveiled a bill with Democratic Reps. Jerry Nadler of New York and Hank Johnson of Georgia, along with Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, that would expand the court from nine members to 13 members.

However, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said last week that she wouldn’t bring the measure up for a floor vote, instead awaiting the findings of President Joe Biden’s bipartisan commission on court reform.

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