“Breyer retire!” The monopoly of the progressive movement in the mainstream media has greatly harmed the understanding of Constitutional principles in our society. The “Breyer retire” craze is fueled by an unhealthy alliance of politics and an ignorance towards one of the essential fabrics of our Constitutional system.
While Justice Stephen Breyer, a President Bill Clinton appointee, and noted progressive jurist should not be confused for a conservative jurist on the bench, he has had a judicial career worthy of respect and distinction. The talking heads in the media and legal circles now are pressing for his retirement and fear a redux of the “Ginsburg Mistake”. The mistake commonly referred to is the fact that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg chose not to retire under former President Barack Obama and instead battled many health issues throughout the administration of President Trump which led to Trump’s appointment of Amy Comey Barrett upon her death shortly before the November 2020 election.
Supreme Court justices have life tenure and while some may disagree, there is a compelling argument that this is one of the most essential components within our system of government. Supreme Court justices, therefore, have the power whenever they deem fit to retire or may opt to serve their lifetime in office. The Constitution simply places the requirement of “good behavior” as attached to their tenure. This is a necessary defense mechanism to preserve our governmental system despite the many ideas and movements that permeate society and threaten its intrinsic operation. It puts forth an effective system of gradualism and counter-weight to those tides in order to preserve Constitutional principles in our nation.
The recent movement to entice Justice Breyer to step down is rooted in the deep push for a monopoly of social egalitarianism that has dangerously come to pass in our nation, but has no basis in authentic Constitutional principles. Those in the progressive legal academy in collaboration with the media prioritize preserving abortion rights and the recognition of same-sex marriage and its related LGBT issues at all costs. The mere suggestion of a conservative president raises alarms that these rights will be threatened with the appointment of more justices that adhere to a constitutionalist philosophy.
In fairness, we present a defense here of the Supreme Court as an institution while acknowledging that it has played a role contributing to this politicization moment by having chosen to adjudicate the abortion, marriage and lifestyle issues that are best left to local governance. Substantive commentary on these individual issues can be found in prior articles as here we are simply focusing on the concept of how society should view the Supreme Court.
Next term the Supreme Court will be deciding a potential new blockbuster case on abortion rights. This case has already begun to make waves on both sides of the aisle and it is sadly such a divisive topic in our nation today. At present, the Supreme Court stands at a 6-3 majority of justices appointed by Republican presidents. While it is fair to say that the Supreme Court has grown gradually more conservative on several issues including religious freedom and Second Amendment, it has also shown the effective mechanism of our Constitutional system in the process.
For example, the constitutionalist vision that the late President George H.W. Bush had when he made the appointment of Justice Thomas nearly three decades ago has carried over to today with every opinion Justice Thomas pens that stems from his comprehensive understanding of Constitutionalist principles. On the progressive side, President Clinton’s view of Constitutional interpretation has continued to advance to the modern day in Justice Breyer’s opinions on issues such as administrative law and the role of government agencies among other progressive interests. While it is not fair to say that the President should be ordering opinions on certain issues, it is perfectly reasonable that the President would have the respect for the jurist to contemplate independently while appreciating the jurist holds certain philosophies over others. It is the beauty of our system that an administration may be out of power, but their philosophy on constitutional interpretation will live on even if an administration of another prioritized philosophy is governing. It strikes a balance in the structure of our nation’s system of government.
When we as a society infringe on the Constitutional framework and in the process challenge the independence of the institution of the Supreme Court based on an ignorant “anti-trust” principle of our Constitutional structure, it will only lead to unrest.
The actions to forcibly suggest Justice Breyer retires are unfair to him and to the structure of the Supreme Court. It sets a precedent to cave to the masses and demeans the Supreme Court to nothing more than a political theater, bowing to the whims of a society that gleefully ignores the fabric and intent of our Constitutional system. It is safe assumption that Justice Breyer would come out on the side of any replacement President Joe Biden would put forth on the issue of abortion. This does not mean, however, that his discretion as dictated to him by right under the Constitution to make a decision as to the length of his tenure on the Supreme Court should be forcibly abdicated.
The common politics counter-argument of the media and activist talking heads considers the actions Senator Mitch McConnell took to not take up the confirmation process of a jurist to replace Justice Antonin Scalia during the end of President Obama’s term. They willfully ignore the provision of the Constitution that provides the senate with “advice and consent” power over addressing Supreme Court vacancies. Senator McConnell made clear to President Obama to not make an appointment as the election neared, while that decision may be the subject of debate, it does not change the fact that the Constitutional right existed to make that decision. President Obama then in fact made his decision to name now Attorney General Merrick Garland as the appointment. Both branches exerted their rights- the President appointing and the senate expressing its dissatisfaction and not taking action. The confirmation was not processed as it did not gain consent from the senate as the President was duly advised.
Our society must learn to appreciate the structure of the Constitution and the purpose it serves. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard than ignorance derived from a disordered drive to codify social egalitarian principles and thus contribute to the political unrest of our nation. The Justice Breyer saga is but one example of the willingness to disregard our structure and reduce the judiciary to nothing more than an extension of societal “anti-trust” and destructive societal sentiment. It is about time we demanded better.