President Joe Biden honored soon-to-be-retired Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer at the White House on Thursday and said that he will nominate Breyer's replacement by the end of February.
He also reiterated a campaign promise in noting that his first Supreme Court nominee would be a Black woman.
"The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity. And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court," Biden said.
Reports emerged Wednesday that Breyer — one of the oldest justices on the court and the second-longest tenured justice — would soon step down.
In a letter to the president made public Thursday, Breyer said his retirement would take effect "when the court rises for the summer recess this year (typically late June or early July)." He added that he hoped his successor would be "nominated and confirmed" by that time.
In honoring Breyer Thursday, Biden reminisced about presiding over his Supreme Court confirmation hearings as the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He raved about Breyer's "brilliance," " values," and "scholarship," and called his opinions "particular, sensible and nuanced."
"I think he's the model public servant in a time of partisan division," Biden said.
Breyer spoke briefly following Biden's remarks, quoting the founding fathers in calling America an "experiment that's still going on." He added that it's up to future generations to "determine whether the experiment still works."
"I'm an optimist, and I'm pretty sure it will," Breyer said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has already promised that a Biden nominee would "receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed."
Many Democratic lawmakers have been pushing Breyer to retire now — while Democrats control the White House and the Senate — to ensure another liberal judge is added to the high court.
The ideology of the court has swung to favor conservatives in recent years. President Donald Trump — buoyed by a Republican-led Senate's refusal to vote on President Barack Obama's nominee ahead of the 2016 election — nominated three conservative justices to the bench in his four years in office: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. The additions of those justices gave conservatives a 6-3 advantage on the court.
Breyer's retirement comes as the Supreme Court weighs several landmark cases that concern abortion rights, voting rights and affirmative action in the college selection process.
With Biden promising to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, a few front runners have already emerged, according to The Associated Press and Newsy. They are:
U.S. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson — The 51-year-old judge has served as a district judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia since 2013. Biden nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals last summer.
U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs — The 55-year-old Childs has served as a federal judge in South Carolina since 2010. Biden recently nominated her to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals.
California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger — The 45-year-old judge previously served in the Office of the Solicitor General under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. She's served on the California Supreme Court since 2014.
Civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill — The 59-year-old civil rights lawyer currently serves as the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Glamour Magazine recently named her the 2020 Woman of the Year for her continued work fighting for racial justice.