Former Obama White House Counsel Neil Eggleston predicted Thursday that Justice Stephen Breyer isn’t going to retire from his Supreme Court seat just “because somebody bought a van” advocating that he do so, an apparent swipe at left-wing Demand Justice activists who did just that.
Eggleston was asked during a Federalist Society virtual event to respond to the recent efforts by some left-wing activists to get Breyer to step down so that President Biden can name a replacement for him before the 2022 midterms.
“When I was White House counsel I thought about this in connection to Justice Ginsburg,” Eggleston said. He acknowledged that one of his former White House colleagues, Christopher Kang, is a co-founder of Demand Justice, the group leading the charge to get Breyer to step down.
But Eggleston said that he decided against making such a move in his role as the White House counsel, the person responsible for Obama’s judicial nominees.
“I just decided that I had nothing to add to the information she already had… I never talked to the president about it but I just thought, ‘I’m not gonna do it, I’m not gonna call her and suggest to her that it’s time for her to step down,'” Eggleston said. “It’s unseemly and I’m not gonna do it.”
He added: “I kind of had the same reaction to this. I think Justice Breyer doesn’t need the liberal media and those sort of people – progressives like me are not turning on him, he’s in our view a fantastic justice… he’s gonna make whatever decision he’s gonna make.”
“I don’t think he’s going to decide to retire because somebody bought a van with ‘Retire, Breyer’ in writing around the Supreme Court,” Eggleston added.
In early April, Kang’s group Demand Justice did in fact buy a van with a billboard that said “Breyer, Retire… Don’t risk your legacy,” on it.
The van and stepped-up calls for Breyer’s retirement came shortly after the justice slammed the concept of court-packing in a speech to Harvard Law students and alumni.
“If the public sees judges as politicians in robes, its confidence in the courts and in the rule of law can only diminish, diminishing the court’s power, including its power to act as a check on other branches,” he said.
“That authority, like the rule of law, depends on trust… that the court is guided by legal principle, not politics,” he continued. “Structural alteration motivated by the perception of political influence can only feed that latter perception, further eroding that trust. There is no shortcut.”
In this April 23, 2021, file photo members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington. Seated from left are Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Standing from left are Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch and Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett. This is the first photo of all the justices together after the death of late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Barrett’s confirmation. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool, File)
Eggleston made the comments during a Federalist Society forum on judicial nominations and confirmations under President Biden. Among the other panelists were Judicial Crisis Network President Carrie Severino.
“I agree with Neil, it’s unseemly,” Severino said of the effort to get Breyer to step down. “I think if anything that response, especially coming as it did almost immediately after Breyer’s own rejection of court-packing… I don’t think that’s appropriate and I think it also risks further politicizing that seat.”
Justices will often announce their retirements around the conclusion of a term of the court, meaning if Breyer were planning a retirement his announcement should be expected within approximately the next month.