Other presidents and their advisers have been more insistent on creating favorable conditions for the court. In 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson wanted to put his friend Abe Fortas on trial, he convinced Judge Arthur J. Goldberg, appointed during the Kennedy era, to step down from the bench and become ambassador to the United Nations. Two years later, when Mr. Johnson wanted to appoint Thurgood Marshall as the first black Supreme Court Justice, he pushed Supreme Court Justice Tom K. Clarke to resign by appointing his son Ramsey Clark as Attorney General, which created a potential conflict. of interest.
There is no such drama in Breuer’s retirement.
When his departure was officially announced at the White House on Thursday, Judge Breuer offered a rare window into his reflections: As Mr. Biden stood behind him, he referred to the Gettysburg Address and spoke of the diverse and “complex” country he served. According to him, the observance of the Constitution and the rule of law has made a complex country exceptional.
Judge Breuer said that future generations should determine the direction the country will take from here. According to him, these generations will “determine whether the experiment will work, and of course, I’m an optimist, and I’m pretty sure that it will.”
In fact, it wasn’t all that different from what Mr. Biden has been saying throughout his presidency. Earlier this month, he urged Americans to “stand up for the rule of law, keep the flame of democracy alive, keep America’s promises alive.”
And while Judge Breuer’s remarks weren’t political, many in Congress believed he was maneuvering to resign when the Democrats were still in a position to replace him before the interim terms.
Judge Breyer’s appearance at the White House on Thursday with the president was unusual. When Judge Sandra Day O’Connor retired, President George W. Bush gave a speech alone in the Rose Garden after her phone call. Judge David H. Souter similarly called Mr. Obama, who made the announcement in a White House briefing. Judge Kennedy handed a letter of resignation to Trump, but did not appear at his side that day.