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Justice Breyer’s retirement is a critical moment for Liberals

Brookings Institution

A Syracuse University expert on the Supreme Court says Justice Stephen Breyer’s resignation could have a long-term effect on the high court. Political Science Professor Thomas Keck explains why.

“The Democrats need some new and younger justice there to start moving it back in their direction.”

Keck adds the next nominee’s confirmation will likely hinge on support from Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. The two moderates have been road blocks for President Biden’s agenda, opposing voting rights legislation and a two trillion dollar social spending package. But, Keck expects them to follow their party this time.

“Biden’s been in office for just over a year. He’s appointed a lot of federal judges already, and Senators Manchin and Sinema have voted for every single one of them. They have not voted against a single Biden nominee for the federal judiciary, so we don’t have any reason to believe that Manchin and Sinema would jump ship on Biden’s Supreme Court nominee.”

The president confirmed that he plans to choose a Black woman as Breyer’s replacement by the end of February. Although this new justice wouldn’t change the balance of power in the court, Keck isn’t counting out a contentious nomination process.

“Republicans in the Senate haven’t often been laying down their arms. They’ve been obstructing everything Biden does. One could picture Senate Minority Leader McConnell just trying to gum up the works and slow things down. The more time they spend confirming Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, the less time they have to confirm other federal judicial nominees and pass important legislation.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he intends to move quickly on Biden’s nominee. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says she wants the next justice to defend abortion rights, voting rights, and civil rights.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at