How long will Biden take to appoint a new justice to the Supreme Court?
The President has the opportunity to nominate Justice Stephen Breyer's replacement and will want to confirm his successor before the midterms in November.
While campaigning in 2020 Joe Biden announced that if he were to win the presidency he would seek to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court at the first opportunity that he had.
That moment has now arrived with the announcement on Wednesday that Justice Stephen Breyer will retire at the end of the current Supreme Court term in June. The Democrats will want to make the most of their Senate majority to ensure that Biden's pick is confirmed in the Upper House before the midterms in November.
When will Biden appoint the new justice to the Supreme Court?
On Thursday the President confirmed that he plans to have nominated his pick for the Supreme Court before the end of February, giving his team just one month to research, vet and interview a number of potential candidates.
"Our process is going to be rigorous. I will select a nominee worthy of Justice Breyer's legacy of excellence and decency," Biden told reporters gathered for the White House speech.
"While I've been studying candidates' backgrounds and writings, I've made no decision except one: the person I nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity - and that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court.”
The timeframe may seem surprisingly short but the end-of-February deadline is just the day by which point he wants to have officially confirmed his nomination. Once chosen, Biden’s nominee will be subject to an extended confirmation process in the Senate.
The Senate must confirm each new Supreme Court nominee with a straight majority vote required to approval the new justice. Previously the confirmation of a justice was subject to the usual 60-vote threshold to evade the filibuster but the Republicans changed it to a 51-vote simple majority in 2013.
Why does Biden was to confirm the new justice so quickly?
Given the lifetime terms given to Supreme Court justices (Breyer is now in his 27th year of service) it may seem odd for Biden to give himself just a few weeks to make his all-important selection. However he is clearly looking to take advantage of this moment while the Democrats hold both the White House and the Senate.
The timing of Breyer’s retirement means that the Democrats have a great opportunity to select his successor. Justice Breyer is considered to be among the Court’s three liberal members and Biden will be eager to replace him with a like-minded justice.
The Democrats currently hold the narrowest of margins in the Senate and only wield a majority by dint of Vice President Harris’ tie-breaking vote, in the event of a 50/50 split. However that could all change after the midterms in November and just a single lost seat would hand the Republicans control of the Senate, giving them a huge say in the identity of the next Supreme Court justice.