Liberal US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer plans to retire, lawmakers said on Wednesday, giving President Joe Biden the opportunity to fulfill a campaign promise to nominate the first Black woman to the nation's top judicial body.
The retirement of Breye, who is 83 and has served on the court since 1994, gives Biden a first chance to shape the court, whose 6-3 conservative majority has shown an increasing assertiveness on issues including abortion and gun rights. Biden's Republican predecessor Donald Trump was able to choose three justices during his four years in office.
Biden's fellow Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in the Senate, which under the US Constitution confirms Supreme Court nominees. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Biden's nominee to replace Breyer will receive a "prompt hearing" and will be considered and confirmed with "all deliberate speed."
The Democrats have reason for speed. Republicans are seeking to regain control of the Senate in the Nov. 8 congressional elections. The chamber's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, has made clear he would block any Biden nominations to the court if his party regains the majority.