Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to step down

California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger is a leading contender to replace him

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to step down

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is planning to retire at the end of the court’s term in the summer, according to various media outlets.

Breyer, 83 years old, is the second-most senior associate justice, having served nearly three decades on the high court. Generally siding with the liberal justices, Breyer was reportedly encouraged to retire by those who wanted to ensure President Joe Biden's nominee would benefit from a Senate controlled by Democrats, USA Today reported.

During his 2020 campaign, Biden pledged to make history by naming an African American woman to the Supreme Court, if he got the chance. The two leading contenders are said to be federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was on President Barack Obama's shortlist in 2016, and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, NPR reported.

In 2014, Kruger was the youngest person to be appointed to the California Supreme Court.

The 45-year-old justice has plenty of experience with the high court, having worked as a clerk for the late Justice John Paul Stevens and served as acting deputy solicitor general in the Obama administration. At the Justice Department, she also earned the Attorney General's Award for Exceptional Service – the department's highest award for employee performance, CNN reported.

At the California Supreme Court, her high-profile opinions include maintaining that law enforcement couldn’t search a woman's purse without a warrant after she declined to provide a driver's license and upholding a California law that requires law enforcement to collect DNA samples, as well as fingerprints, from all persons arrested for or convicted of felony offenses, CNN reported. 

The Supreme Court’s influence on the workplace has already been evident this year, as it blocked Biden’s vaccine mandate for private employers.

Read more: ‘No recourse’ for employees who lost jobs because of vaccine mandates, lawyer says

The mandate, which would have impacted more than 80 million workers, required that workers at businesses with 100 or more employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly coronavirus tests to confirm they don’t have the virus. It also required unvaccinated workers to wear masks indoors at work. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimated that the emergency temporary standard (ETS) could save more than 6,500 lives and prevent over 250,000 hospitalizations in the six months that it would be in effect.

“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” the conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion, The Associated Press reported.

“Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies,” Justices Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.

Conversely, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Biden’s vaccine mandate for health care workers at facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding. The mandate affects more than 17 million workers in approximately 76,000 healthcare facilities and government-funded home healthcare workers across the country.

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