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December 8, 2021

Are Democrats pressuring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to retire?

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks at the Human Trafficking
Policy and Education Summit at the Malouf Foundation in Logan on
Saturday, April 17, 2021. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mike Lee says Democrats are putting pressure on Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to retire, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday his party stands ready to fill a seat should one become vacant.

“It’s really a poorly kept secret that there’s been pressure among Democrats on Justice Breyer to retire. I’m not sure whether that pressure campaign would make him more or less likely to step down,” Lee said Friday on Fox News.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter to the Senate Democratic caucus, some say Schumer appears to be subtly nudging Breyer toward retirement, though he didn’t mention the soon-to-be 83-year-old justice by name.

“As always, Senate Democrats stand ready to expeditiously fill any potential vacancies on the Supreme Court should they arise,” Schumer wrote in the letter.

Asked on Fox whether he thought Schumer is suggesting that Breyer move along, Lee said, “Yes, yes.”

But a spokesperson for Schumer told the Huffington Post that his statement was not intended to pressure Breyer to step down. Instead, the spokesperson said, it was part of a scheduling announcement to let people know the kinds of issues senators are prepared to deal with when the Senate reconvenes next week.

President Bill Clinton appointed Breyer, one of three liberal justices on the nine-member panel, to the court in 1994.

The Supreme Court ended its 2020-2021 term earlier this month. Breyer has not given any public indication of his plans.

But progressive outside groups, and some House lawmakers, have waged a monthslong pressure campaign to try to get Breyer to retire in order to ensure that the vacancy occurs while Democrats still control the Senate, according to The Hill.

If Breyer were to retire, it wouldn’t change the 6-3 conservative majority on the nation’s highest court. But it would allow President Joe Biden to fill the seat with someone younger and potentially add more diversity to the court.

Former Justice Anthony Kennedy, the last justice to retire from the court, announced his plans at the end of June in 2018.

Lee, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said retirement announcements typically come around the end of the term.

“We haven’t seen it yet, but it could keep things interesting for a while,” he said.

President Donald Trump interviewed Lee to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court in 2018. Trump ultimately nominated Brett Kavanaugh.

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