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Schumer: Democrats 'ready to expeditiously fill' any Supreme Court vacancy

The Hill logo The Hill 7/9/2021 Jordain Carney
Stephen Breyer wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Justice Stephen Breyer © New York Times/Pool Justice Stephen Breyer

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Friday that Democrats are ready to fill a Supreme Court seat if one becomes vacant, amid progressive pressure for Justice Stephen Breyer to retire.

Schumer, in a "Dear Colleague" letter released on Friday, didn't mention Breyer by name, though his mention of a potential Supreme Court vacancy was seen by some as a subtle nudge toward the 82-year-old liberal justice.

"Alongside these crucial legislative priorities, the Senate will continue to confirm more of President Biden's highly qualified judicial nominees. ... We will continue this critical work in the months to come. As always, Senate Democrats stand ready to expeditiously fill any potential vacancies on the Supreme Court should they arise," Schumer wrote in the letter.

There is not currently a vacancy on the Supreme Court, which wrapped up its 2020-2021 term earlier this month. But progressive outside groups, and some House lawmakers, have waged a months-long pressure campaign to try to get Breyer to retire in order to ensure that the vacancy occurs while Democrats still control the Senate.

Breyer has given no public indication of his plans but that has done little to stop the growing churn of speculation in Washington and among court watchers as the Supreme Court neared the end of its previous term.


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Former Justice Anthony Kennedy, the last justice to retire from the court, announced his plans at the end of June.

If Breyer retired that wouldn't change the 6-3 conservative majority of the Supreme Court. But it would allow Biden to fill the seat with someone younger and potentially add more diversity to the nation's highest court.

Senate Democrats - including Schumer's No. 2 and Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) - have largely declined to weigh in on whether Breyer should step down.

If Breyer does retire it would likely upend Senate Democrats' schedule for the rest of the year, just as they are planning to ramp up work on a two-track infrastructure plan.

Schumer, in his letter, reiterated that he wants to pass both a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a budget resolution that sets up a larger, multitrillion-dollar, Democratic-only bill during the upcoming Senate work period that starts on Monday.

And he's already sending warning signs that the current to-do list, without factoring in a potential Supreme Court fight, could keep the chamber in Washington through part of the August recess.

"Please be advised that time is of the essence and we have a lot of work to do. Senators should be prepared for the possibility of working long nights, weekends, and remaining in Washington into the previously-scheduled August state work period," he wrote.

CORRECTION: Kennedy announced he was retiring from the Supreme Court on June 27, 2018. An earlier version of this misstated the timing.

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