Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Justice Stephen Breyer with President Joe Biden

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, with President Joe Biden, holds a copy of the Constitution as he announces his retirement in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on January 27, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Exiting Breyer Quotes Lincoln: 'We Are Now Engaged in a Great Civil War'

The Supreme Court justice appeared to be "pointedly talking about threats facing the country," said one observer.

Julia Conley

Officially announcing his retirement Thursday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer quoted former President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as the outgoing jurist suggested the country was embroiled in something like the "great civil war" of the nation's past.

"This is a complicated country," said the justice, adding that the U.S. was conceived as "an experiment" as he held up a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

"We are now engaged in a great civil war to determine whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure," Breyer added, quoting the words of Lincoln.

The justice announced his retirement just over a year after former President Donald Trump incited a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol which was aimed at overturning the results of the 2020 election—an incident that Trump's allies continue to downplay as the former president leads in 2024 presidential candidate polls.

The U.S. also faces the coronavirus pandemic and a right-wing misinformation campaign which has been blamed for driving up death rates; continued racial injustice and the Republican Party's fight to keep discussions of racism out of public schools; attacks on voting rights and reproductive freedom across the nation; and a widening gap between lower- and middle-income Americans and the richest corporations and people in the country. Right-wing lawmakers have stood in the way of proposals to solve several of these crises despite their broad popularity with the public.

Leah Litman, a professor at University of Michigan Law School and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, tweeted that Breyer appeared to be "pointedly talking about threats facing the country."

"Not by accident," said NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss, "did Justice Breyer... remind us that the American system is always an experiment whose survival must never be taken for granted."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Rights Group Urges Civilian Safeguards as Biden Sends Troops Back to Somalia

"A culture of impunity for civilian loss breeds resentment and mistrust among the population and undermines efforts to build a more rights-respecting state," Human Rights Watch's regional director asserted.

Brett Wilkins ·

Australian Progressives Hail 'Greenslide' Amid Big Left Wins and Morrison's Ouster

"People have backed the Greens in record numbers and delivered a massive mandate for action on climate and inequality," said party leader Adam Bandt.

Brett Wilkins ·

Omar Leads Charge Against Baby Formula Monopolies Amid US Shortage

Democrats urge the FTC to probe "any unfair or unsustainable practices, like deceptive marketing, price gouging, and stock buybacks, that may be weakening our nutritional formula supply."

Jessica Corbett ·

'Arbitrary, Racist, and Unfair': Judge Blocks Biden From Ending Title 42

"Only the coyotes profiteering off of people seeking protection have reason to celebrate this ill-reasoned ruling," said one migrant rights advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·

'This Is a War' for Democratic Party's Future, Says Sanders of AIPAC's Super PAC

"They are doing everything they can to destroy the progressive movement in this country," said the senator.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo