What does Stephen Breyer's retirement mean for President Biden? Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, discusses how Biden and the Democrats will likely handle the Supreme Court nomination process.
What does Stephen Breyer's retirement mean for President Biden?
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced retirement this week, giving Biden the opportunity to appoint a new justice and maintain the balance on the court, which is currently divided 6-3, favoring Republican appointees. Whoever Biden nominates is extremely unlikely to get even a single Republican vote, but the nominee is likely to come relatively quickly and be confirmed well before Republicans take the Senate in the November midterm elections.
Biden has already pledged to nominating a Black woman to the court, which significantly narrows the field of potential nominees given the limited number of Black women in the federal judiciary. And further complicating things is the fact he faces political constraints in a 50/50 Senate, meaning that he has to find somebody with relatively moderate views or a very thin record in order to appeal to a small number of Senate Democrats who have attempted to define their own political brands separate from the rest of the party.
The most important of these is Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the senators from West Virginia and Arizona, who have been major roadblocks this year for President Biden's fiscal agenda and a voting reform bill. There are a handful of red lines on social issues that really matter that could be an issue for Manchin in particular, including on guns and abortion. Biden's record on judicial nominees so far has been very strong with almost all of his judges getting confirmed, even on close party lines and this one's likely to be no different, but the high stakes and high profile of this nomination could end up derailing other parts of the Biden agenda, in particular, Build Back Better fiscal policy if Biden has to spend political capital with Manchin in order to get his nominee confirmed.