Even a day after news broke about Justice Stephen Breyer’s plans to retire from the Supreme Court, networks provided special reports on the official White House announcement on Thursday.
The coverage underscored the importance of a vacancy, particularly as it gives President Joe Biden his first chance at leaving a legacy on the high court.
At the White House ceremony, Biden said that he had made no decision on who he would pick to succeed Breyer, and plans to announce his nominee by the end of the February.
Reiterating a campaign pledge, Biden said, “That person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the Supreme Court.” After NBC News’s Pete Williams broke the news on Wednesday about Breyer’s plans, speculation quickly centered on three contenders: Ketanji Brown Jackson, judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C.; Leondra Kruger, a California Supreme Court justice; and J. Michelle Childs, who serves on the U.S. District Court in South Carolina.
Just before the ceremony began, the Supreme Court released his letter to Biden making his retirement official. He wrote that he intends to step down at the end of the current term, assuming that his successor has been nominated and confirmed.
The reunion of sorts Breyer and Biden was covered live by CNN, MSNBC and Fox News as one would expect. With the anticipation of who the president selects to succeed him atop the Beltway rumor mill, CBS, NBC and ABC all cut into daytime programming with specials reports on the Roosevelt Room tribute event.
In his remarks, the president reflected chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1994 when Breyer was going through his confirmation hearings.
“This is sort of bittersweet day for me: Justice Breyer and I go back a long way, back to the mid 70s when he came on the Judiciary Committee, but that is another story.” Breyer was special counsel and later chief counsel to the committee.
He praised Breyer for his “remarkable career in public service and his clear eyed commitment to making the country’s laws work for its people.”
In his remarks, Breyer held up a copy of the Constitution and said, “People have come to accept this Constitution and they have come to accept the importance of a rule of law.” He then talked of the system of government still being an “experiment,” before quoting from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as best he could by memory. “We are now engaged in a Great Civil War, to determine whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
“That’s what [Lincoln] thought: It’s an experiment,” Breyer said.
He said that the next generation will determine whether the experiment works, “and of course I am an optimist and I am pretty sure it will. Does it surprise you that that is the thought that comes into my mind today? I don’t know, but thank you.”
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