Activists on both sides of the abortion debate have reacted to news that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will retire at the end of the court’s term, warning that the “stakes have never been higher.”
First appointed to the nation’s high court in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, the 83-year-old is the oldest justice on the bench and the longest-serving of the court’s three liberals.
News of his impending retirement, reported by NBC News Wednesday, comes as Democrats have a narrow 50-50 majority in the U.S. Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote in favor of Democrats. The forthcoming vacancy gives President Joe Biden his first opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court justice since taking office last year.
Additionally, the news of Breyer’s decision to retire is breaking as the Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling in the major abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization before the end of its current term. With abortion being a hot-button issue that frequently finds itself in front of the court, Breyer had authored recent Supreme Court opinions that struck down pro-life laws in Louisiana and Texas.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the grassroots pro-life lobbying organization Susan B. Anthony List, lamented that “Biden has promised to only appoint justices who support abortion on demand through birth.” She vowed to “vigorously oppose the president’s nominee” if he follows through on the promise.
“The news of this vacancy comes as we await the Court’s ruling in Dobbs this summer followed by the pivotal midterm elections,” Dannenfelser added. “The stakes have never been higher in the fight to secure legal protections for unborn children and return the issue back to the people to decide through their elected representatives, not unelected judges.”
Alexis McGill Johnson, the president of the country’s largest abortion provider Planned Parenthood, tweeted her gratitude for Justice Breyer’s “service to our nation.”
“His retirement comes when access to abortion is under attack like never before,” she said. ‘We call on President Biden to nominate a candidate who will be a bold force and protect our health and rights.”
Franklin Graham, the son of the late evangelist Billy Graham and leader of the evangelical humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse, urged his followers to “pray for the next nominee.”
“We need someone who fears God and who supports and protects the U.S. Constitution,” the pro-life evangelist stated in a Facebook post.
The pro-choice advocacy group NARAL tweeted that the Breyer retirement is a “chance to shape the Court for decades to come.”
“We’re looking forward to having another reproductive freedom champion on the Supreme Court,” the organization asserted.
“It’s time for a Black woman Supreme Court Justice,” NARAL declared. “We’re ready to meet this moment and ensure a reproductive freedom champion ends up on the bench.”
NARAL’s comments reflect Biden’s pledge during the 2020 presidential campaign to nominate an African American woman to the Supreme Court.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki indicated that the president stood by his promise at a White House press briefing Wednesday. Unlike former President Donald Trump, Biden has not publicly released a list of jurists he would choose from when making a Supreme Court appointment.
The anticipated replacement of Breyer with another liberal justice appointed by a Democratic president will not change the balance of the court, which consists of three justices appointed by Democrats and six justices appointed by Republicans.
Supreme Court confirmation votes have become increasingly partisan over the years. Eighty-seven senators voted to confirm Breyer to the Supreme Court in 1994, compared to nine who voted against his confirmation. Breyer’s confirmation vote reflects that a majority of Senate Republicans supported his nomination.
Nearly two decades later, only a handful of Senate Republicans supported both of Democratic President Barack Obama’s appointments to the Supreme Court. Nine Senate Republicans supported Obama’s nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor in 2009, while only five Republicans voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan to the bench in 2010.
Just two of the Senate Republicans who voted for both of Obama’s nominees, Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, remain in office.
The votes to confirm all three of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees were even more partisan. Just three Democrats supported Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation in 2017. That number declined to one by Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the court in 2018. No Senate Democrat voted to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the bench in 2020.
Biden’s Supreme Court nominee would need to secure the support of all 50 Senate Democrats, which is not a guarantee. In the two most recent Supreme Court nominations, one member of the president’s party voted with most or all members of the opposing party to oppose the nomination. In an evenly divided Senate, one Senate Democrat joining with all Senate Republicans in voting against confirmation would be enough to sink the nomination.
Whoever Biden nominates to fill Breyer’s seat will first undergo confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The full Senate will weigh in if the nominee makes it out of the committee. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin announced his intention to move “the President’s nominee through expeditiously through the Committee.”
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org