Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer recently spoke to the New York Times about his retirement plans — specifically the question of whether the 83-year-old will step down while President Joe Biden is in office to ensure his replacement is not a Federalist Society bow-tie who unwinds to the speeches of Ronald Reagan.
“There are many things that go into a retirement decision,” said a man born before the introduction of the ballpoint pen.* “There are a lot of blurred things there, and there are many considerations...They form a whole. I’ll make a decision.”
One of these considerations might be that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who declined to step down during the Obama administration, died last fall, triggering a slapdash appointment process that culminated in the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett. But Breyer’s not worried about that; all the justices, he said by way of Times paraphrase, act in “good faith.”
“My experience from more than 30 years as a judge has shown me that anyone taking the judicial oath takes it very much to heart,” he wrote in his new book, The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics, which comes out next month. “A judge’s loyalty is to the rule of law, not the political party that helped to secure his or her appointment.”
Let’s hold a séance and ask Justice Atonin Scalia about that one.
*Technically, the ballpoint pen was first patented in 1888, by an American inventor named John J. Loud. But that patent expired, leaving the wild west of scribbling implements up for anyone to claim, including Hungarian newsman László Bíró, who joined forces with his dentist brother to produce them en masse in Breyer’s birth year, 1938.