Law/Justice

The big nothing of replacing Stephen Breyer

By Damon Linker, The Week

We appear to be at the start of one of the most routine processes in our politics.

I know we’re supposed to think Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement from the Supreme Court and the pending announcement of President Biden’s nominee to succeed him is a political earthquake. The 24/7 news cycle has all of us primed to leap at such developments and pronounce each of them a Big Deal.

But this one really isn’t.

Yes, it’s important. The Supreme Court sits atop one of three coequal branches of the federal government. The institution is incredibly (and perhaps much too) powerful. There are only nine justices. They serve for life. So when steps down or dies, it’s undeniably deserving of coverage, attention, and analysis.

Yet the specifics of this particular retirement make it among the least remarkable events of its kind one could imagine.

To begin with, Breyer’s departure while a Democrat is president and the Senate is in Democratic hands means that a seat currently held by a liberal jurist will continue to be held by a liberal jurist. It will be a one-for-one swap in terms of ideology, unlike what happened toward the end of the Trump administration, when the liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died while still on the bench and was replaced by the conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

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