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Stephen Gerald Breyer Edit Profile

judge , Lawyer

Stephen Gerald Breyer is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Stephen G. Breyer has spent more than two decades as a Supreme Court justice, and during that time he has cultivated a reputation for pragmatism, optimism, and cooperation with both political parties.


Mr. Breyer was born on August 15, 1938, in San Francisco, California, United States. He is the son of Irving Breyer and Anne Breyer. His father was a lawyer who worked for the San Francisco Board of Education. His mother was active in the Democratic party and in a variety of civic affairs. He experienced a childhood in commonplace surroundings.


Stephen Breyer attended a prestigious magnet school in the San Francisco area, Lowell High School, where he participated on the debate team and was voted by his graduating classmates "most likely to succeed." After high school, he attended Stanford University and graduated summa cum laude (Bachelor of Arts) in Philosophy in 1959. Over the next two years, he studied at Magdalen College of Oxford University in England on a Marshall Scholarship and received his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics and Economics there in 1961. Upon his return to the United States, Mr. Breyer attended Harvard Law School, where he served as an articles editor on the Harvard Law Review and graduated magna cum laude (Bachelor of Laws) in 1964.


Mr. Breyer obtained a coveted clerkship with Associate Justice Arthur Goldberg on the Supreme Court during the Court’s 1964 term. His work for Justice Goldberg included preparing the first draft of Justice Goldberg’s highly regarded concurring opinion in one of the most important cases of the 1960s, Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), which recognized a constitutional right of privacy for married couples to use contraceptive devices.

After Breyer’s clerkship with Justice Goldberg, he accepted a job in the U.S. Justice Department as a special assistant to Assistant Attorney General Donald F. Turner in the antitrust division. Stephen Breyer worked for the Justice Department from 1965 to 1967. Later on he joined the faculty at the Harvard Law School, where he taught regularly from 1967 to 1994, focusing his scholarly and teaching work mainly in the area of subjects involving government regulation, such as antitrust law. Over the next 13 years, Mr. Breyer combined a career as a legal academic with frequent forays into the arena of public service. He briefly worked for Archibald Cox in 1973 as an assistant special prosecutor during die Watergate investigation. From 1974 to 1975 he was a special counsel to the Administrative Practices Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee and worked closely with the subcommittee chair, Senator Edward Kennedy, to sponsor legislation that eventually lowered airline fares by deregulating the airline industry. From 1979 to 1980 he was chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Toward the end of President Jimmy Carter’s term in office, he nominated Stephen Breyer to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. This nomination, made in November 1980, might easily have been stalled by Republicans until after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in 1981. Nevertheless, Mr. Breyer enjoyed bipartisan respect that prompted the Republicans to support his appointment to the federal appeals court. He served on the court from 1980 until 1994 and as its chief judge front 1990 until 1994. In addition to his normal responsibilities as an appeals judge, Stephen Breyer, who had worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee at a time when the issue of sentencing reform was before Congress, served as a member of the Sentencing Commission from 1985 to 1989. This commission established guidelines for federal judges for the imposition of criminal sentences. On August 3, 1994 Mr. Breyer was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

By all indications, Breyer might have been expected to take a position in the middle of the Court’s ideological range, and in his brief tenure on the Court to date he has tended to confirm this expectation. The labels “conservative” and “liberal,” often misleading when applied to Supreme Court justices, do not sit easily on Justice Breyer. For example, in United States v. Playboy (2000), he dissented from the majority’s decision to strike down a federal law that required cable television operators to block sexually oriented channels or to limit their transmission to hours when children are unlikely to be viewing as violating freedom of speech.

On many issues, though, Justice Breyer has found himself at odds with the Court’s more conservative justices, who have formed a narrow majority on a variety of issues during the closing years of the 20th century and the beginning years of the 21st. A majority of the Rehnquist Court, for example, has been the midwife for a renewed concern for the prerogatives of states within the federal system, especially under the Constitution’s Eleventh Amendment, which immunizes states from suits by citizens of other states and by aliens. In controversial decisions such as Alden v. Maine 1999 and Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents 1999, a conservative majority on the Court applied the Eleventh Amendment to bar claims against states brought under federal labor and anti-discrimination laws. Justice Breyer joined three other justices - John Paul Stevens, David Souter, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg - to protest this constitutional interpretation.

Similarly, the same conservative justices have revisited the limits of Congress’s power to regulate matters affecting interstate commerce and have invalidated federal laws such as the Gun Free Schools Zones Act, held unconstitutional in United States v. Lopez (1995), and the Violence Against Women Act in United States v. Morrison (2000). Again, Stephen Breyer - joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg - has voiced his opposition to this constitutional development.


  • Achievement  of Stephen Breyer

    Stephen Breyer was the second-longest-serving junior justice in the history of the Court, close to surpassing the record set by Justice Joseph Story of 4,228 days (from February 3, 1812, to September 1, 1823); Breyer fell 29 days short of tying this record, which he would have reached on March 1, 2006, had Justice Samuel Alito not joined the Court on January 31, 2006. In 2007, Mr. Breyer was honored with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award by the Boy Scouts of America.

    Considered one of the best writers in the federal court system, Mr. Breyer has authored several books about federal regulation. More recently, he explained his judicial philosophies in his 2005 tome, Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution, and in his 2010 book, Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View.


Stephen Breyer was a follower of Judaism.


Stephen Breyer demonstrated repeated ability to forge alliances across partisan lines, and his excellent reputation among both Democrats and Republicans earned him a place on the federal bench. More liberal than most other members of the court, Breyer was highly regarded, even by conservatives, for his analytic rather than ideological approach to the Constitution. In the area of civil rights, Breyer consistently sided with efforts to dismantle historical and symbolic vestiges of racial segregation.

Such issues as abortion and capital punishment with which senators sometimes prick Supreme Court nominees did not trouble Breyer. Asked for his views on the death penalty, Mr. Breyer noted that its constitutionality in some circumstances was clearly established. "It seems to me that the Supreme Court has considered that matter for quite a long time in a large number of cases," Breyer said. "At tins point it is settled." Similarly, he acknowledged the settled nature of the Court’s abortion decisions. "The case of Roe v. Wade has been the law for 21 years, or more, and it was recently affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States," he said. "That is the law."


Quotations: "The advantages? Exercise, no parking problems, gas prices, it's fun. An automobile is expensive. You have to find a place to park and it's not fun. So why not ride a bicycle? I recommend it."

"To threaten the institution is to threaten fair administration of justice and protection of liberty."

"There are loads of countries that have nice written constitutions like ours. But there aren't loads of countries where they're followed."

"This understanding, underlying constitutional interpretation since the New Deal, reflects the Constitution's demands for structural flexibility sufficient to adapt substantive laws and institutions to rapidly changing social, economic, and technological conditions."

"You will read in the newspaper more often about federal courts, but the law that affects people, the trials that affect human beings are by and large in the state courts."

"I think whether you are a judge on my court or whether you are a judge on a court of appeals or any court, and lawyers too - and if you're interested in law yourself, you'll be in the same situation - you have a text that isn't clear. If the text is clear, you follow the text. If the text isn't clear, you have to work out what it means. And that requires context."

"You can have many different selection systems, but the bottom line has to be a system that, once the judge takes office that judge will feel that he or she is to decide the case without reference to the popular thing or the popular will of the moment."

"Active liberty is particularly at risk when law restricts speech directly related to the shaping of public opinion, for example, speech that takes place in areas related to politics and policy-making by elected officials. That special risk justifies especially strong pro-speech judicial presumptions. It also justifies careful review whenever the speech in question seeks to shape public opinion, particularly if that opinion in turn will affect the political process and the kind of society in which we live."

"Every citizen has to figure out what kind of government he or she wants."

"It's important to every American that the law protect his or her basic liberty."

"Independence doesn't mean you decide the way you want."


Breyer was a member of the following organizations: American Bar Association, Council Foreign Relations, American Academy Arts and Sciences, American Law Institute, American Bar Foundation.

  • American Bar Association , United States

  • Council Foreign Relations , United States

  • American Academy Arts and Sciences , United States

  • American Law Institute , United States

  • American Bar Foundation , United States


  • Sport & Clubs


  • Other Interests

    birdwatching, cooking, old movies