U.S. Supreme Court Justice Breyer mum on his future

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Associate Justice Stephen Breyer poses during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., April 23, 2021. Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS

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WASHINGTON, July 1 (Reuters) - Justice Stephen Breyer, the U.S. Supreme Court's oldest member, remained mum about his future on Thursday after it issued the final two rulings of a nine-month term during which some liberal activists had urged him to retire.

Breyer, 82, has served on the court for 27 years. These activists want him to step aside to give Democratic President Joe Biden the chance name a replacement who could serve in the lifetime post for decades.

The court has a 6-3 conservative majority after Biden's Republican predecessor Donald Trump was able to name three justices during his four years in office, most recently appointing Amy Coney Barrett last year after the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan make up the court's liberal bloc.

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Breyer has given no public indication that he plans to retire. In an April speech he said it was important for the justices not to appear driven by political considerations. Justices often announce their retirements soon after the court issues its final rulings.

Biden during the 2020 presidential election campaign pledged to nominate a Black woman to fill any Supreme Court vacancy, which would be a historic first. Democrats hold a slim majority in the U.S. Senate, which under the U.S. Constitution has the power to confirm Supreme Court nominees.

Some liberal activists are concerned that if Breyer does not retire while the Democrats control the Senate, Republicans could block confirmation of his successor or a future Republican president could name his replacement and shift the court even further to the right.

Breyer authored the court's major June 17 ruling rejecting a Republican bid to invalidate Obamacare, preserving the landmark healthcare law formally called the Affordable Care Act for the third time since its 2010 enactment. read more He also wrote the June 23 ruling in a major free speech case that sided with a cheerleader who had been punished by her high school for a profanity-laced social media post. read more

In the past, Breyer has written important rulings upholding abortion rights and has become a persistent critic of the death penalty.

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Reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington and Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham

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