(NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden on Thursday formally announced the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer from the Supreme Court at the end of the term.
During the announcement, Biden affirmed his pledge to nominate the first Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying it was “long overdue.”
Biden also said he’ll make his nomination to fill the vacant seat before the end of February.
“I made that commitment during the campaign for president,” Biden said. “I will keep it willfully.”
“Our process is going to be rigorous,” he said. “I will select a nominee worthy of Justice Breyer’s legacy of excellence and decency.”
Biden praised retiring Justice Breyer as a model public servant.
Breyer notified Biden of his retirement in a letter, in which he wrote: “I enormously appreciate the privilege of serving as part of the federal judicial system”
“I have found the work challenging and meaningful,” Breyer wrote. “My relations with each of my colleagues have been warm and friendly. Throughout, I have been aware of the great honor of participating as a judge in the effort to maintain our Constitution and the rule of law.”
Breyer’s impending retirement comes after more than two decades as a Supreme Court Justice. At 83, Breyer is the oldest member of the court and the most senior member of its three-member liberal wing.
Biden didn’t say who might be considered to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat.
“I’ve been studying candidates’ backgrounds and writings,” he said. “I’ve made no decision except the one person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity.”
Two names, however, have seemingly topped any list of potential nominees.
Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, attended Harvard as an undergraduate and for law school. President Barack Obama nominated her to be a district court judge, and Biden elevated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Early in her career, she was also a law clerk for Breyer.
Leondra Kruger, 45, is a justice on the California Supreme Court. A graduate of Harvard and of Yale’s law school, she served as a law clerk on the high court before arguing a dozen cases before the court as a lawyer for the federal government. But Kruger, whose mother is Jamaican, has also been described as a moderate, which could be a tough sell for some liberal Democratic senators.
Biden could also choose someone from outside the judiciary, though that seems less likely.
Selecting a Black woman for the lifetime post on the nation’s highest court would be historic. It would mark the first time four women would sit together on the court and the first time two of the court’s nine justices would be Black. Justice Clarence Thomas is the court’s only Black justice and only the second in history after the man he replaced on the court, Thurgood Marshall.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Biden’s nominee “will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.