Justice Stephen Breyer ’59 will officially retire from the Supreme Court on Thursday at noon, he announced in a letter to the White House penned Wednesday morning. His retirement will begin mere hours after the Supreme Court releases its final rulings of this term.
“It has been my great honor to participate as a judge in the effort to maintain our Constitution and Rule of Law,” he wrote. “I have found the work challenging and meaningful.”
Breyer’s retirement has been in the works for months — the justice announced in January that he intended to retire to allow President Joe Biden the opportunity to replace the liberal justice during his term in office.
Born in San Francisco, California in 1938, Breyer is the Court’s oldest member at 83 years old. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Stanford University in 1959, graduating with membership in the academic honor society, Phi Beta Kappa. He would go on to study at Oxford and Harvard and spend eight years in the U.S. Army Reserves before being honorably discharged in 1965.
In 1993, he was considered for the vacancy that would be filled by late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Breyer joined the court the following year, confirmed by an 87 to 9 senate vote, after the retirement of Harry Blackburn. In his time on the Court, Breyer was known for his pragmatic approach to justice, considering the real-life consequences of court decisions while still respecting the decisions made by the legislature.
In 2000, Breyer wrote the majority opinion in Stenberg v Carhart, striking down a Nebraska law that banned partial-birth abortions.
In 2015, he dissented on Glossip v. Gross, a case that dealt with the death penalty, and called on the Court to directly examine the constitutionality of the death penalty, writing that it was “highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment.”
Breyer maintained his strong devotion to the job, writing momentous opinions until his final day on the Court. Just last week, he was one of three dissenters on Dobbs v. Jackson which overturned the precedent created by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey which defended abortion as a constitutional right. The dissenting opinion stated that “in overturning Roe and Casey, this Court betrays its guiding principles.”
Ketanji Brown Jackson will be sworn in this summer as Breyer’s successor, following her February nomination and April confirmation in the Senate. As Jackson’s ascension to the role replaces one liberal judge with another, the 6-3 conservative majority will remain.