United States Supreme Court
September 27, 2016 – Tuesday, 8pm
Stephen Breyer is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was appointed to the country’s highest court in 1994 by President Bill Clinton and is generally associated with the more liberal side of the court. Breyer is known for his pragmatic approach to constitutional law whereby he tends to look more closely at the purpose and consequences of his decisions, rather than a more literal reading of the Constitution itself, in an effort to make the law more sensible.
Breyer was raised in a middle-class Jewish family in San Francisco. His father was legal counsel for the San Francisco Board of Education. As a young man, he was an active debater in high school tournaments. Breyer went on to study philosophy at Stanford University, and then received a second Bachelor of Arts as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University before studying the law at Harvard Law School.
Following a clerkship with Supreme Court Associate Justice Arthur Goldberg in 1964, Breyer joined the faculty of Harvard Law School in 1967, and taught there until 1994, becoming well known as a law professor and lecturer. There he specialized in administrative law, writing a number of influential textbooks that remain in use today.
Breyer was an assistant special prosecutor on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force in 1973. He was a special counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary from 1974 to 1975 and then served as chief counsel to that committee from 1979 to 1980. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter nominated Breyer to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit where he remained until 1994, including serving as the court’s Chief Judge from 1990 to 1994. During that time he played a key role in reforming federal criminal sentencing procedures to increase uniformity in sentencing, resulting in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
Following the retirement of Harry Blackmun in 1994, President Bill Clinton nominated Breyer as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
In 2015, Breyer released his third book as a Justice, The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities, examining the interplay between U.S. and international law and how the realities of a globalized world need to be considered in U.S. cases. He first expounded on his judicial philosophy in his 2005 book, Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution and later in Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge’s View, released in 2010.