Bill Clinton's influence on Supreme Court to end with Breyer departure

Justice Breyer reportedly ‘upset’ by timing of retirement news: Shannon Bream

Fox News chief legal correspondent provides insight into the announcement on ‘America Reports.’

When Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer steps down from the nation’s highest court – as Fox News has been told he intends to do at the end of the court’s current term – his departure will end the influence of former President Bill Clinton on the court.

Clinton, who served two terms as president, 1993-2001, named two justices to the court during his time in office: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who served on the court from August 1993 until her death at age 87 in September 2020, and Breyer, 83, whom Clinton nominated in May 1994 and who joined the court in August of that year.

Breyer’s nomination followed the retirement of former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, an appointee of former President Richard Nixon who had served on the court since 1970.

When Clinton announced Breyer’s nomination on May 16, 1994, he called the San Francisco native an “unquestioned leader of the judiciary.”

Associate Justice Stephen Breyer is seen in Washington, April 23, 2021.

“Judge Breyer will bring to the Court a well recognized and impressive ability to build bridges in pursuit of fairness and justice. In the generations ahead, the Supreme Court will face questions of overriding national importance, many of which we cannot today even imagine,” Clinton said.

He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in an 87-9 vote.

Then-U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Stephen Breyer, left, listens as then-President Bill Clinton nominates Breyer to the Supreme Court during a news conference outside the White House, May 13, 1994.
(Getty Images)

Ironically, had Hillary Clinton been elected president in 2016 and 2020, Breyer’s departure would have created an opportunity for the former secretary of state’s fourth nominee to the court. Instead, three court picks went to former President Trump and now President Biden will get his first court nominee – and the court after Breyer will have no representation from the Clintons.

The three Trump appointees on the nine member court are associate justices Neil Gorsuch (confirmed in 2017), Brent Kavanaugh (2018) and Amy Coney Barrett (2020).

Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 meant that Trump, not Clinton, filled three Supreme Court vacancies. From left are Trump picks Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brent Kavanaugh.
(Getty Images)

Other Clinton ties

While Clinton’s direct influence on the court may be coming to an end, some remaining justices have ties to the former president: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was nominated by Clinton in 1997 to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan was an associate White House counsel while Clinton was president.

Former President Bill Clinton speaks in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Feb. 18, 2020.

Breyer’s retirement decision comes after months of speculation that he might retire while the Democratic Party has control of the Senate and House of Representatives.

During a interview with The New York Times in August, Breyer said he did not intend on remaining a Supreme Court justice until death. (Being named to the court is a lifetime appointment.)

“I don’t think I’m going to stay there till I die — hope not,” Breyer said.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer arrives for the swearing-in ceremony of Judge Neil Gorsuch as an associate Supreme Court justice in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2017. 

Breyer also issued a warning to Democrats who are interested in packing the court, in a bid to overcome a conservative majority.

“[T]hink twice, at least,” Breyer said. “… If A can do it, B can do it. And what are you going to have when you have A and B doing it?”

Fox News Tyler Olson and Peter Aitken contributed to this story.

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