Is Stephen Breyer Conservative or Liberal?

The U.S. Supreme Court will deliver the final opinions of this judicial term on Thursday and speculation is rife that Associate Justice Stephen Breyer will take the opportunity to announce his retirement.

Breyer will turn 83 on August 15 and some progressives are hoping he'll choose to leave the court and allow President Joe Biden to appoint someone to fill the vacancy.

The Supreme Court currently has a 6-3 conservative majority, while Breyer is considered part of the court's liberal wing along with Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

A justice can choose to retire at any time—and Breyer may not make an announcement on Thursday at all—but the last day of court opinions has seen previous justices step aside.

Former Associate Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy both announced their retirements on that day. O'Connor left the court in 2006 and Kennedy in 2018.

Breyer has faced calls to retire from progressives and liberals, some of whom are concerned that if he should continue in office and pass away while a Republican is in the White House, then the court's conservative majority could be further strengthened.

The quick confirmation of Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 and the refusal by Senate Republicans to hold hearings for Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama's nominee in 2016, have also raised concerns.

Breyer was appointed to the Supreme Court by then President Bill Clinton in 1994 and he has consistently sided with the liberals on the bench, voting repeatedly to affirm abortion rights.

He authored the majority opinion in the 2020 case June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, in which the court struck down a Louisiana law that required any doctor performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic.

Breyer also joined the minority dissent in the landmark 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, in which the court struck down parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, effectively ending federal oversight - called "preclearance" - for new voting laws in states with a history of discrimination in voting.

And in perhaps the most controversial case of the past 30 years, Breyer dissented from the majority opinion in 2000's Bush v. Gore, which settled the result of the presidential election and saw George W. Bush win the White House.

"I thought it was wrong," Breyer told NPR in 2010. "A court will sometimes be wrong, but it's more important to have a nation that tries to resolve its differences, important ones, under law rather than have people resorting to violent alternatives."

The Martin-Quinn Score is one measure of how liberal or conservative a Supreme Court justice is. It was developed by Washington University's Andrew D. Martin and the University of Michigan's Kevin M. Quinn.

Breyer's score following the 2019-2020 judicial term made him the third most liberal member of the court at that time. Only Sotomayor and the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg were more liberal.

In his 2010 interview with NPR discussing his book, Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View, Breyer said he believed the Founding Fathers wanted the U.S. Constitution to be a living document.

"People think we decide things politically," Breyer said. "Or that the only way to protect against subjective views of judges is to have something called originalism, which is as if you could reach decisions by means of an historical computer. I don't think any of those things are true."

"What we're doing with the Constitution is you can think of us as this document laying down certain frontiers or borders, and we're the border patrol," Breyer said elsewhere in the interview.

"Life on the border is sometimes tough. And whether a particular matter - abortion or gerrymandering or [...] school prayer - whether that's inside the boundary and permitted, or outside the boundary and forbidden, is often a very, very difficult and close question," he said.

Newsweek asked the Supreme Court for comment.

Stephen Breyer Speaks at Harvard University
United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer speaks at the Harvard University Institute of Politics John F. Kennedy School of Government John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on November 6, 2015, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Some progressives are hoping Breyer will announce his retirement on Thursday. Paul Marotta/Getty Images

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