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August 07, 2022 Top Legal News of the Week

Justice Breyer welcomed back with ABA Medal

Back when retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer started teaching at Harvard Law School decades ago, a fellow professor told him to go to an American Bar Association meeting because “that’s where the action takes place.”

Quipping that the ABA even back then had “250,000 members and 300,000 committees,” he said it’s important to come to these meetings and participate, because “you have to compromise and you have to accommodate.”

As a judge on the 1st Circuit, Breyer was active in the Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice and was in line to become its vice chair but had to withdraw when he was nominated to the Supreme Court. He joked that he was having such fun at ABA meetings that in 1994 “it wasn’t that easy a choice — should I go to the Administrative Law Section or go to the Supreme Court?”

Breyer shared his recollections Aug. 6 when he accepted the ABA Medal at the General Assembly of the 2022 Annual Meeting in Chicago.

In presenting the association’s highest honor, ABA President Reginald Turner noted that “it is given only in years when our Board of Governors determines the nominee has provided exceptional and distinguished service to the law and the legal profession.” Breyer, who wrote more than 525 opinions as a Supreme Court associate justice, was recognized for his extraordinary career as a public servant, a defender of the rule of law and a promoter of judicial independence.

Turning serious, Breyer recalled being surprised when the president of the Supreme Court of Ghana asked him, “Why do people do what you say?

“It’s a hard question,” admitted the justice, and said he realized, “It’s easy to agree with something when you think it’s right. It’s not so easy when you think it’s wrong.”

“You have the rule of law when people accept an opinion they may disagree with and might even be wrong,” Breyer said.

Referring to his new role as chair of the ABA Rule of Law Initiative board, Breyer said that what we can do about what’s happening abroad is limited, but “we can try.”

Citing the last paragraph of Albert Camus’ “The Plague,” in which the plague germ never dies but goes into remission, eventually to reemerge, “that plague germ is in every human being,” he said, and can’t be destroyed.

“Rule of law is not the answer, but rule of law is part of the answer.

“By working with others in other countries who might help us to show them the better parts of what we have learned in this country,” he said, “maybe we can make a small difference. Maybe we can retard just a bit the reemergence of that plague germ.” 

“That’s what I think these meetings help to do,” Breyer said.

Past recipients of the ABA Medal include Sandra Day O’Connor, Thurgood Marshall, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bryan A. Stevenson and Dale Minami.

ABA honors Sens. Durbin and Cornyn for legislative support of priorities


Joining the American Bar Association General Assembly by video since the Senate is in its “final legislative sprint,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) told attendees that “we share a common goal,” which is “equal justice under the law.”

Urging them to “stay engaged,” the senator thanked the ABA “for fighting to preserve our liberties for the next generation,” and reminded them of Ben Franklin’s warning that “we only have a republic if we can keep it.”

The senator and his colleague, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) received Lifetime Achievement Awards from ABA President Reginald Turner at the 2022 Annual Meeting in Chicago on Aug. 6. The awards were created to mark the 25th anniversary of ABA Day, the association’s annual grassroots advocacy event.

Durbin was cited for his “enduring commitment to improving the administration of justice and preserving the rule of law through the legislative process, as demonstrated by your significant assistance in advancing the governmental and legislative priorities of the ABA,” in particular his “steadfast support for increased resources for the Legal Services Corporation and the federal judiciary, student debt relief and public service loan forgiveness and criminal justice and immigration reforms that align with our advocacy objectives.”

Cornyn was also cited for his support for the Legal Services Corporation, as well as “legislative proposals to combat domestic violence and human trafficking, student debt relief, criminal justice reform, and, most recently, your leadership in obtaining passage of the bipartisan Safer Communities Act.”

In his remarks, Cornyn thanked those “who have selflessly volunteered your services to improve our nation’s justice system.”