Stephen Breyer formally announces his retirement from Supreme Court ahead of White House event

By Kate Sullivan, Betsy Klein and Ariane de Vogue, CNN

    (CNN) -- Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on Thursday formally notified President Joe Biden of his intent to retire at the end of this year's Supreme Court term, according to a letter released by the court.

The formal announcement comes ahead of Biden and Breyer holding an event on Thursday afternoon at the White House to mark the justice's retirement.

The President is set to deliver remarks on Breyer's retirement at a 12:30 p.m. event in the White House's Roosevelt Room.

Breyer's retirement gives Biden the opportunity to nominate his first Supreme Court justice and reinforce the high court's liberal minority. The nomination will be one of the most consequential choices of Biden's presidency, and may offer him a political lifeline ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Breyer informed the White House of his decision to retire last week, two sources familiar with the conversation told CNN. Breyer, who is 83, has faced intense pressure from the left to retire while Democrats have a clear path to confirm his replacement.

Biden's pick to replace Breyer is expected be a younger liberal judge who could serve on the court for decades. The confirmation would not alter the Supreme Court's ideological balance -- the court has six conservative justices appointed by Republican presidents and three liberals appointed by Democrats.

But the confirmation of a liberal justice would be a major win for Democrats and could give the party a much-needed boost ahead of the November midterms. Biden's approval ratings have slipped significantly in recent months and Democrats are bracing for the possibility that Republicans will take control of Congress.

Biden said on the 2020 campaign trail he intended to make history by nominating the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that Biden "certainly stands by" the promise.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday vowed that whoever Biden nominates for the court will be confirmed with "all deliberate speed." Biden will have to nominate someone who can safely get 50 votes in the Senate, as Democrats currently hold only the most narrow of majorities in the chamber. The President hopes a swift process will lead to aconfirmed justice by spring.

Well before Breyer's retirement plans became public, a short list of potential nominees had been circulating Washington and officials in the White House Counsel's Office have built files on various candidates in anticipation of a potential vacancy.

Names on the list include: DC Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, South Carolina US District Judge J. Michelle Childs, North Carolina Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls, Minnesota US District Judge Wilhelmina "Mimi" Wright, Circuit Judge Eunice Lee, Circuit Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi and Sherrilyn Ifill, a civil rights attorney who recently announced plans to step down from her role as president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Biden first made the commitment to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court in South Carolina -- a key battleground state where Black voters make up a sizable portion of the electorate. The pledge helped Biden secure key endorsements, including from House Majority Whip James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat. Clyburn's endorsement is largely credited with giving Biden's struggling campaign the boost it needed to win the South Carolina primary, which put him on the path to win the Democratic nomination.

Clyburn told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night that he is pushing for Biden to nominate South Carolina US District Judge J. Michelle Childs.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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