Of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices, Stephen G. Breyer has received the most attention of late, given that at age 82 he is the court’s oldest member and the subject of speculation on whether he is nearing his last term. Also, earlier this month Breyer waded into the hot topic of expanding the size of the court.
But at Breyer’s appearance April 14 at the American Bar Association International Law Section virtual annual conference, he avoided talking about court changes and instead provided insights into the workings of the court.
In a diverse country of around 330 million people, Breyer said at the ABA conference, “it isn’t such a bad thing … (to have) judges who are appointed by presidents who have somewhat different points of view,” and for the Supreme Court to have justices with “different jurisprudential philosophies.”
While many lawyers and other observers complain about narrowly tailored Supreme Court decisions, Breyer explained often they are necessary to secure the agreement of at least five justices on a particular legal conclusion or point of law. “Five, that is the secret, get five,” Breyer said of negotiations of the nine justices.
Speaking to international lawyers, Breyer observed law is becoming much more international in context and scope. When he joined the court in 1994, Breyer recalled, it was rare that a decision by an international body would be part of the record. Now, he estimates that happens in 15%-20% of the cases because of changes globally.
“In doing our job, I think we have no choice about that,” he said. “You have to know something about, and look for something, beyond your own shores.”
- Video of Justice Breyer's conversation at International Law Section’s Annual Conference
- Selected media coverage of Justice Breyer’s remarks at Harvard Law School:
- Current members and bios of the U.S. Supreme Court
- Agenda of International Law Section 2021 virtual conference