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Stephen L. Carter

Ketanji Brown Jackson Won’t Lose Her Seat If Breyer ‘Unretires’

The sitting Supreme Court justice is now contractually obligated to step down.

Getting a promotion no matter what.

Getting a promotion no matter what.

Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

What happens to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson if Justice Stephen Breyer changes his mind and decides not to retire? The question and its variants keep coming up. After all, there’s no vacancy to be filled until Breyer actually steps down at the end of the Supreme Court’s current term. If he chooses to remain on the court — some have asked — does Jackson get the next vacancy that occurs? Or does she stay on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals?

For me as a contracts professor who’s also spent more than three decades writing and teaching about the Supreme Court selection process, the answer is simple: Breyer could have changed his mind earlier, but now he can’t. Period, full stop.