Stephen Breyer is a lawyer, jurist, and legal educator who has been an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court since 1994. President Bill Clinton nominated him. Breyer’s identity was more than just being an associate justice; in a sea of rising lawyers, he stood out for his pragmatic approach to the law. Cass Sunstein, a legal scholar in the United States, praised Breyer, saying, “Breyer will tend to make the law more sensible.” Breyer is respected by all segments of society because of his analytical, rather than ideological, approach to the Constitution. He chooses to speak on topics that are considered taboo, both legally and socially. For example, Breyer has repeatedly fought in favor of abortion rights, which is one of the most contentious issues on the Supreme Court’s docket. He had also served in the United States Military as a corporal in the strategic intelligence unit.
Childhood and Adolescence
Stephen Breyer was born on August 15, 1938, in San Francisco, California, to a Jewish family. His mother, Anne A., and father, Irving Gerald Breyer, were upper-middle-class.
Breyer graduated from Lowell High School and then went on to Stanford University, where he earned a master’s degree in philosophy in 1959.
He was awarded the Marshall Scholarship, which allowed him to study economics, politics, and physics at Magdalen College, Oxford.
Breyer attended Harvard Law School and graduated in 1964.
Breyer gained more experience during his six-month stint in the United States Army Reserve, where he worked in Army Strategic Intelligence. Because of his performance, he was promoted to corporal during his stay.
Stephen Breyer worked as a clerk for Justice Arthur Goldberg in 1964. He was also tasked with fact-checking for the Warren Commission.
From 1974 to 1980, Breyer was the chief counsel of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, where he worked on not only federal criminal code cases but also airline and trucking deregulation.
From 1967 to 1994, Breyer was a full-time lecturer at Harvard Law School.
After taking a leave from teaching at Harvard Law School, he became an assistant prosecutor in the Watergate investigation.
The year 1980 was one of the pinnacle years of his career. During this year, President Carter appointed him to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Following this, Breyer was promoted to Chief Justice in 1990, succeeding Levin Campbell.
At Harvard, he wrote two books: Regulation and its Reform and Breaking the Vicious Circle: Towards Effective Risk Regulation, both of which he wrote while there.
Among Breyer’s literary works, his skeptical views on copyright in the 1970s book The Uneasy Case for Copyright caused quite a stir in the legal world.
Breyer was one of the commission’s influential members, which was formed to look into reforming the US sentencing system (1985–1989). When sentencing federal criminals, he helped change the rules. This led to the introduction of a new set of rules for federal sentencing that would make the structure more consistent.
One of Stephen Breyer’s major contributions to the legal system is his book, Active Liberty (2005). This book is a written response to Antonin Scalia’s book, A Matter of Interpretation (1997), in which he emphasized the importance of sticking to the text’s original meaning only. Breyer, on the other hand, advises adopting a more democratic perspective while reviewing the cases. As a result, citizens have maximum liberty.
Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge’s View (2010) is a book in which Breyer proposed the addition of “purpose” and “consequences” as interpretive tools for assigning proper meaning to a legal proceeding. He cited a few examples from previous cases to support his contention that considering the consequences of a judgment is critical in making a decision. For example, consider the cases of Worcester v. Georgia, where the ruling caused significant damage to the judicial system, as well as the Dred Scott decision, which was a major catalyst for the American Civil War.
Achievements & Awards
In 2007, Stephen Breyer received the Boy Scouts of America’s Distinguished Eagle Scout Award.
Personal and Family Life
Stephen Breyer married Joanna in a village church in Suffolk, England, in 1967. Joanna is a psychologist at Harvard Medical School who works with cancer patients’ children.
Breyer is the mother of three children: Chloe, Nell, and Michael. Chloe, his eldest child, is an Episcopal priest.
Breyer is passionate about cooking. In his spare time, he also enjoys biking and bird watching.
Because of his Eagle Scout features, he was dubbed “troop brain” during his school days.
Breyer was reportedly arrested for underage drinking during his college years.
Breyer was involved in a bicycle accident in 1993. Soon after, he was diagnosed with broken ribs and punctured lungs, but that didn’t stop him from meeting with Clinton about Breyer’s nomination to the Supreme Court.