Biden is about to get his first chance at shaping the Supreme Court

Justice Stephen Breyer is reportedly retiring at the end of the term.

US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer accepts an honorary doctorate from Belgium's Catholic Univer...

Justice Stephen Breyer will reportedly retire from the United States Supreme Court at the end of the term, offering President Joe Biden his first chance to shape the makeup of what is currently a deeply divided, pointedly conservative bench while Democrats still hold a congressional majority.

Breyer, the center-left leaning justice who famously intoned, “I don’t like making decisions about myself,” is expected to officially announce his decision on Thursday, according to multiple outlets. The news follows intense speculation about — and pressure for — the 83-year-old’s retirement. After nearly a quarter-century on the bench, Breyer had become the senior-most member of the court, noting to The New York Times this past summer that “I don’t want somebody appointed who will just reverse everything I’ve done for the last 25 years.”

By stepping down, Breyer will give Biden the opportunity to appoint a younger, potentially more-liberal justice in his place — although, given the court’s lopsided conservative majority, the overall ideological lean will remain firmly to the right. Nevertheless, Biden has repeatedly said he would use a Supreme Court vacancy to appoint the first Black woman to the bench, telling reporters shortly before the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary that, “I’m looking forward to making sure there’s a Black woman on the Supreme Court to make sure we in fact get everyone represented.”

Even before Wednesday’s reports, the looming threat of a majority court — and the possibility that Breyer would stay on into, and then depart during, a Republican administration — reignited a fervent push among Democrats to reform the bench, whether by imposing term limits or, more drastically by “packing” the court with an expanded membership to tamper the current ideological slant.

In a statement released shortly after news of Breyer’s impending retirement broke, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer quickly pivoted from celebrating the justice’s long career on the bench to making clear he wants the seat filled as soon as possible.

“President Biden’s nominee will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Schumer wrote, “and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed.”