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American Opinion: Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement is good for the stability of our democracy

Summary: Moreover, Breyer’s retirement and the consequent Biden opportunity should put an end to any further Democratic talk of expanding the court for political reasons. That has been a disastrous idea that jeopardizes the respect Americans have for an institution called upon to rule on the issues that divide this nation and ensure that respect for the law and the Constitution abides.

Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on April 23, 2021.
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on April 23, 2021. Seated from left: Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Standing from left: Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch and Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images/TNS
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Panicked progressives weren’t shy about telling Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to stop judging and start golfing or gardening.

“Justice Breyer should retire right now” was the headline over a typical see-ya-later-judge opinion piece in the New York Times last year. Not to be outdone, the Washington Post had one, too. And the Breyer-must-go cry hardly was limited to the opinion pages. There were marches and protests that boarded on unacceptable harassment of a learned, pragmatic liberal on the Supreme Court.

Such demands were at best unseemly and at worst damaging to our democracy. Like every justice, Breyer had a lifetime appointment. By all accounts, he remained competent at 83, as do many judges at that age. And the Supreme Court is supposed to be above partisan politics and attempts to time retirements to which party occupies the White House and what their prospects are for re-election.

If we lived in a nation with a more secure center, this would be obvious to all. But that’s hardly the current state of national affairs.

We’re glad that Breyer at least put some distance between those calls for his exit and his decision to retire this week. We salute his service. His ethics and level-headedness have been admirable.

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In the spirit of that pragmatism, it’s worth noting that Breyer’s timing is, in fact, good for both sides of the aisle.

The benefit to Democrats is obvious. President Joe Biden gets to make a Supreme Court pick. He has said that he will be looking only at Black women and there are many strong candidates in that demographic. If his pick is acceptable to at least some Republicans, who should look on the choice with care and without prejudgment, that would be a healthy stride forward for this country.

But there’s also a benefit to Republicans. President Donald Trump did indeed move the court to the right and a reasonable person can see that a center-left pragmatist of the Breyer type will probably be healthy in the long run, given the composition of the court. We suspect Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sees that too. Biden now has to deliver one.

Moreover, Breyer’s retirement and the consequent Biden opportunity should put an end to any further Democratic talk of expanding the court for political reasons. That has been a disastrous idea that jeopardizes the respect Americans have for an institution called upon to rule on the issues that divide this nation and ensure that respect for the law and the Constitution abides.

Enjoy your retirement, Justice Breyer. We’re glad you are going on your own terms. All retirees hope for the same.

This American Opinion editorial is the opinion of the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune.

©2022 Chicago Tribune. Visit at chicagotribune.com . Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

American Opinion
American Opinion
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