President Joe Biden hailed Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s service to the country as the eldest Supreme Court Justice announced his retirement from the court and pledged to name someone worthy of his legacy.
The president said he knew Mr Breyer going back to when the future justice worked on the Senate Judiciary Committee when Mr Biden was a young Senator on the committee that he would later be chairman of.
“I’m here today to express the nation’s gratitude to Justice Stephen Breyer for his remarkable career in public service and his clear-eyed commitment to making our country’s laws work for its people,” he said.
Mr Biden noted how Mr Breyer served in the United States Army as a teenager and working on the committee. The president noted how he voted to confirm Mr Breyer to the US Court of Appeals.
“And then 14 years later in 1994, I got to preside as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, over his Supreme Court confirmation hearings,” he said. “We were joking with another when he walked in, did he ever think that he’d have served decades on the court and I’d be President of the United States the day he came and retired.”
Mr Breyer submitted his letter on Thursday after numerous media reports on Wednesday that he would retire from the court.
“I enormously appreciate the privilege of serving as part of the federal judicial system – nearly 14 years as a Court of Appeals Judge and nearly 28 years as a Member of the Supreme Court,” he said.
Mr Biden also hailed the opinions he wrote on abortion rights and voting rights.
“His opinions are practical, sensible and nuanced,” he said.
The president noted how this now meant he would have the pick his successor.
“Choosing someone to sit on the Supreme Court, I believe is one of the most serious constitutional responsibility a president has,” he said. “Our process is going to be rigorous. I’ll select a nominee worthy of Justice Breyer’s excellence and decency.”
Mr Biden pledged in the 2020 campaign to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, which he reference in his speech.
“The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity, and that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court,” he said. ”I will do what I said I’d do. I will do my duty to select a justice not only with the Senate’s consent but with its advice.”
Mr Biden said that he would consult with the Senate, scholars and lawyers, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris, who was not present but rather in Honduras.
“She’s an exceptional lawyer, a former attorney general for the state of California, and a former member of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” he said. “I’ll meet with the potential nominees and it is my intention, my intention to announce my decision by the end of February.”
Mr Breyer for his part noted how he enjoyed speaking to high school, college students and law school students about what he finds meaningful.
“What I say to them is look, I sit there on the bench, and after we hear lots of cases,” he said. “It’s a kind of miracle when you sit there and see all those people in front of you, people who are so different in what they thing, and yet they’ve decided to help solve their major differences under law.”