9 Things You Should Know About Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer – Joe Carter

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced he will be retiring after serving for more than two decades on the high court. Here are nine things you should know about the liberal justice.

1. Breyer has been a lawyer for 57 years.

Stephen Breyer, age 83, was born in San Francisco, California, and educated at Stanford University (AB), Magdalen College, Oxford (BA), and Harvard Law School (LLB). He was an Assistant Professor, Professor of Law, and Lecturer at Harvard Law School (1967–1994), a Professor at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government (1977–1980), and a Visiting Professor at the College of Law, Sydney, Australia and at the University of Rome. From 1980–1990, he served as a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and as its Chief Judge, 1990–1994.

2. Breyer was an Eagle Scout, Army corporal, Oxford graduate, and ditch digger.

Breyer is the only current justice to be an Eagle Scout, a rank he achieved at age 12. He also spent eight years in the United States Army Reserve including six months on active duty, working in Army Strategic Intelligence. He reached the rank of corporal and was honorably discharged in 1965. (Justice Alito, who also served in the Army Reserve, is the only other military veteran on the Court.) But Breyer is only one of three justices who received a degree from a university in the United Kingdom. (Justices Kagan and Gorsuch also went to Oxford.) In 1958, he also worked a summer job as a ditch digger for the Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

3. Breyer married into the English aristocracy.

In 1967, Breyer married Joanna Hare, a clinical psychologist and the daughter of John Hare, an English viscount and briefly head of the Conservative Party. They have three children.

4. Breyer is Jewish and has a daughter who is an Episcopal priest.

Breyer is one of only eight (out of the 115 justices to have served on the Supreme Court) Jewish justices. His daughter Chloe is an Episcopal Priest in the Diocese of New York; she earned a PhD in Christian Ethics from Union Theological Seminary.

5. Breyer said he was guided by the Torah’s emphasis on justice.

In a 2014 convention of the Jewish Federations of North America, Breyer said his judicial philosophy was influenced by the Torah’s emphasis on justice, or tzedek: “Social justice. I think of that. I think of tzedakah, which we usually hear of on Yom Kippur. . . . It’s not quite pure charity, like giving through love. And it’s not quite the rule of law either. But it is trying to create a better world.” He added that “[t]here is a message, and the message has something to do with tzedek, and it has something to do with tzedakah, and it has something to do with social justice, and the law should work out so there is not too much injustice in the way in which it does work out.”

6. Breyer sustained a major injury while riding his bicycle—three different times.

Breyer has been hospitalized three different times because of injuries sustained while riding a bicycle. In 1993, Breyer was riding his bike across Harvard Square when he was hit by a car. He suffered serious injuries, including a punctured lung and broken ribs, but left the hospital early to be interviewed by President Clinton for a position on the Supreme Court. In 2011 the justice broke his collarbone riding near his home and in 2013 fell from his bike and fractured his right shoulder.

7. Breyer was the Court’s most outspoken critic of the death penalty.

Breyer claimed there were three constitutional defects in the administration of the death penalty that made it a “cruel” punishment under the Eighth Amendment: unreliability, arbitrariness, and unconscionably long delays. As the American Bar Association notes, Breyer “reasoned that these defects have caused most places (effectively 86% of counties have no death penalty) within the United States to abandon the use of the death penalty, and that this decline in the imposition and implementation of the death penalty has rendered it an unusual punishment.”

8. Breyer consistently supported abortion—including partial birth abortion.

Throughout his time on the Court, Breyer was an unapologetic defender of the right to abortion. He was the lead author of two court majorities in defense of abortion rights, in 2000 and 2016, and has never voted to sustain a restriction on abortion. In the 2000 case of Stenberg v. Carhart, Breyer wrote that that criminalizing the performance of partial birth abortions violated the U.S. Constitution, as interpreted in Casey and Roe. “All those who perform abortion procedures using that method must fear prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment,” wrote Breyer, claiming this results in “an undue burden upon a woman’s right to make an abortion decision.” Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent concluded that “[t]he notion that the Constitution of the United States. . . prohibits the States from simply banning this visibly brutal means of eliminating our half-born posterity is quite simply absurd.”

9. Breyer was mostly pro-religion—though not pro-mainstream Christian.

A study by Lee Epstein and Eric A. Posner found that Breyer supported the pro-religion side 62.1 percent of the time. But when a case represented a mainstream Christian view, Breyer supported that side only 44 percent of the time. “Breyer and Kagan occasionally sided with the conservative majority, and even when they dissented, they were less scathing than Ginsburg and Sotomayor,” write Epstein and Posner. “While Breyer and Kagan tended to concur on technical grounds, one senses that they felt less hostility toward religious individuals and organizations who believed that they faced discrimination from secular authorities.”

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