Life classes from Justice Breyer


Justice Breyer proclaims an opinion from the bench in 2016. (Artwork Lien)

This text is a part of a collection of tributes on the profession of Justice Stephen Breyer.

Pratik Shah is head of the Supreme Court docket and appellate apply at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and a former assistant to the solicitor common. He clerked for Breyer throughout the 2003-04 time period.

Clerking for Justice Breyer taught me many vital classes — classes relevant not solely to the regulation but in addition to life extra broadly. He didn’t simply preach these classes, however practiced them in a approach that left an enduring impression. Three of these classes appear extra related now than ever.

1. Have interaction in our democratic system

Justice Breyer is the last word “small-d” democrat — a real believer in our democratic system. It isn’t only a principle to him; he promotes democracy in motion. I recall him speaking typically (publicly and in chambers) about regulation “effervescent up” from grassroots activism and ground-level coverage engagement. And he encourages his clerks to “become involved” by means of public service as a part of their post-clerkship careers. 

Justice Breyer’s perception in our democracy dovetails along with his deference to the legislative course of — an method stemming from his personal experiences. Earlier than he was a choose, Justice Breyer labored for the Senate Judiciary Committee. He witnessed the work that went into passing legal guidelines, and respects the information and experience behind them. 

That very same religion in our democratic system informs Justice Breyer’s mode of constitutional interpretation. He doesn’t espouse pragmatism for its personal sake, however deploys it with an eye fixed to creating our constitutionally prescribed democratic processes extra inclusive and work higher to resolve the altering issues dealing with our nation.

2. Study from totally different views

I view Justice Breyer as a “world citizen” — somebody with a thirst to study from others with totally different views, together with these from totally different nations and methods of presidency. 

Justice Breyer by no means hesitated to check how different nations, together with their courts, handled issues like these we face in the US. In fact, Justice Breyer by no means overlooked the significant constitutional variations between the US and different nations. However his view was an eminently wise one: Why not a minimum of see what we will study by means of the expertise of different nations?  

That world perspective knowledgeable his methodology of statutory interpretation as effectively. A comparatively obscure opinion from my clerkship time period, F. Hoffman-LaRoche v. Empagran S.A., is quintessential Justice Breyer: In deciphering the International Commerce Antitrust Enhancements Act, he emphasised rules of comity as an interpretive instrument that furthers “concord” with international nations — an method “notably wanted” in our more and more “interdependent industrial world.”

However Justice Breyer’s curiosity in different nations is not only a part of his authorized methodology; it’s a part of his lived expertise. He travels broadly, learns international languages (coveting French-speaking clerks in contrast to myself!), and immerses himself in different cultures. As clerks, we regularly noticed international jurists or dignitaries in chambers assembly the boss for lunch or dialog. Generally it was a member of one other excessive courtroom — whether or not from Israel, India, France, or elsewhere. As soon as it was the Dalai Lama!

3. Disagree with out being unpleasant

In some methods, Justice Breyer was a foil to Justice Antonin Scalia. No one can deny the standing of each as good, participating, and entertaining authorized giants. But they parted methods in each substance and magnificence. Justice Scalia spoke in absolutes when it got here to his interpretive philosophy, whereas Justice Breyer embraces the nuance of his extra pragmatic however no-less-principled method. And whereas Justice Scalia typically employed biting assaults in his writing, Justice Breyer avoids them. I realized that firsthand, because the justice unfailingly edited out any zingers that we overzealous clerks may need tried to sneak in.

Justice Breyer merely isn’t excited about debater factors. And he put a premium on relationships, typically talking about how 9 individuals with very totally different views managed to stay so collegial. He returned from each convention, irrespective of the result, with the identical optimism and heat relationship along with his colleagues as when it began. I’ve tried to emulate his collegial and disciplined method in my very own work as an oral advocate and brief-writer in the present day. 

Justice Breyer’s judicial method speaks to his elementary decency, fair-mindedness, and optimistic outlook — qualities we might all stand to reflect nowadays.

What do you think?

Written by colin


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