Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, will retire at the end of the court's current term, according to media reports Wednesday, giving President Joe Biden the opportunity to appoint a successor who could serve for decades.
Reuters legal correspondent Lawrence Hurley:
"This is a huge moment, gives Biden a great opportunity to make his imprint on the Supreme Court.... he promised during the election to elect the first black woman for the Supreme Court which would be a big achievement for him if he can get that through the senate which he should be able to because the Senate is narrowly controlled by democrats at the moment..."
Liberal activists have urged Breyer - who is 83 - to step aside before Republicans have a chance to regain the majority of the senate in November's election .. which could give them an opportunity to block a Biden nominee for the court like they did with Barack Obama's choice to replace Antonin Scalia back in 2016.
A risk Breyer wasn't willing to take, says Daniel Urman, a law professor at Northeastern University.
"I think he was well aware what happened when his colleague Ruth Bader Ginsburg stayed on too long, handing over her seat to Amy Coney Barrett. Breyer always fancied himself as a pragmatist, a practically-minded scholar and justice, and I think he saw that the democrats may not have the Senate much longer, and he wanted to make sure his legacy was in good hands."
Appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1994, Breyer authored important rulings upholding abortion rights and healthcare access, helped advance LGBT rights and questioned the constitutionality of the death penalty - but often found himself in dissent on a court that has moved rightward and currently has a 6-3 conservative super majority.
Potential Biden nominees include Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former Breyer law clerk who was confirmed by the Senate last June to serve on an influential U.S. appellate court, and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger.
A Biden appointee would not change the court's ideological balance but would enable him to refresh its liberal wing with a much younger jurist in the lifetime post.
Biden's predecessor Donald Trump appointed three justices during his four years in office, all of whom were young enough to serve for years to come.
Shortly after the news broke Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed Biden's nominee would be considered and confirmed with "all deliberate speed."