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Supreme Court Justice Breyer formally announces his retirement

Justice Stephen Breyer, photographed in 2015.
Ariel Zambelich
Justice Stephen Breyer, photographed in 2015.

Updated January 27, 2022 at 12:26 PM ET

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer formally announced his retirement Thursday. In a letter released by the court, Breyer said he intends to step down when the court begins its summer recess this year, "assuming that by then my successor has been nominated and confirmed."

He's set to appear with President Biden at the White House at 12:30.

You can watch the event live here:

News of Breyer's retirement leaked Wednesday. His decision was long sought by liberals to give President Biden the opportunity to nominate his first high court justice while Democrats control the Senate. During the campaign Biden pledged he would select a Black woman for the court.

In his letter to Biden, Breyer wrote that "I enormously appreciate the privilege of serving as part of the federal judicial system" and that he has found the work "challenging and meaningful."

"My relations with each of my colleagues have been warm and friendly. Throughout I have been aware of the great honor of participating as a judge in the effort to maintain our Constitution and the rule of law," he wrote.

NPR has reported that two leading contenders are federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was also on President Obama's shortlist in 2016, and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger — who was the assistant and then deputy solicitor general in both Democratic and Republican administrations before she was nominated to California's highest court. Both women are younger — Jackson is 51 and Kruger is 45 — giving either the opportunity, if chosen and confirmed, to serve for decades.

Breyer, nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1994, is, at 83, the court's oldest justice. Even if the Democratic majority in the Senate is able to confirm his successor, it will not change the conservative 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised Tuesday that "President Biden's nominee will 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."

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NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.