Biden to nominate first black woman to US Supreme Court

Justice Stephen Breyer will retire this summer after Biden appointment is confirmed

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US President Joe Biden on Thursday said he will nominate the first black woman in US history to the country's Supreme Court by the end of February, making good on a vow he made while campaigning for the presidency in 2020.

Mr Biden's announcement came during remarks recognising Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the nine judges that sit on the nation's top court, who formally notified the White House of his retirement after 28 years on the bench.

"The person I nominate to replace Justice Breyer will be someone with extraordinary qualifications. Character, experience, and integrity. And they will be the first black woman nominated to the United States Supreme Court," Mr Biden said.

News of Mr Breyer's retirement circulated on Wednesday, before his formal letter to Mr Biden.

"I am writing to tell you that I have decided to retire from regular active judicial service as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States," Mr Breyer wrote.

Mr Breyer said he will leave during the Court's summer break and when his successor has been confirmed.

"This is sort of a bittersweet day for me," the president said. "Justice Breyer and I go back a long way."

Mr Biden faces challenges in bringing his nomination through a highly divided Senate, which is constitutionally required to confirm all justices.

Republicans are expected to roadblock any Biden nominee in the lead-up to the midterm elections, while Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he is aiming for a “prompt” confirmation with “deliberate speed".

Mr Biden will undoubtedly nominate a liberal justice, though such an appointment will not shift the 6-3 conservative majority power stance in the court.

"He has patiently sought common ground and (to) build consensus seeking to bring the court together," Mr Biden said of Mr Breyer. "I think he's a model public servant in a time of great division in this country. Justice Breyer has been everything his country could have asked for."

Mr Breyer has sat on the Supreme Court as a liberal justice for nearly three decades, after being nominated by former president Bill Clinton in 1994.

"This is a complicated country. There are more than 330 million people, and my mother used to say, it's every race, it's every religion — and she would emphasise this — its' every point of view possible," he said.

"And it's a kind of miracle when you sit there and see all those people in front of you, people that are so different than what they think, and yet they've decided to help solve their major differences under law."

Mr Breyer wrote important rulings upholding abortion rights and healthcare access, helped advance LGBT rights and questioned the constitutionality of the death penalty but often found himself in dissent on a court that has moved to the right.

"Throughout, I have been aware of the great honour of participating as a judge in the effort to maintain our Constitution and the rule of law," he concluded in his letter to Mr Biden.

Stephen Breyer, center, and then Senator Joe Biden, right, in Washington, on May 17, 1994. AP

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: May 20, 2022, 11:48 PM