The American Bar Association will award the Honorable Stephen G. Breyer, newly retired associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, the 2022 ABA Medal, the association’s highest honor. Breyer will accept the award at the ABA’s Annual Meeting in Chicago in August.
Breyer, who retired from the Supreme Court at the end of this current term on June 30, has had an extraordinary career as a public servant, a defender of the rule of law, a promoter of judicial independence and a friend to the ABA. He has written more than 525 opinions as a Supreme Court justice and demonstrated a commitment over the decades to trying to make our democracy work in fair and practical ways.
“I am greatly honored to receive the ABA Medal,” Breyer said. “To me, the medal represents the American Bar Association. The ABA represents the bar. The bar represents the legal profession. And the legal profession represents the rule of law throughout the United States and the rest of the world.”
Breyer has been an ABA member since 1988. He has had a long involvement with the Association, speaking to ABA conferences, annual meetings and special events on numerous occasions where he recognized the ABA as a forum for the important exchange of legal ideas. As a judge on the First Circuit in 1994, Breyer was active in the Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice and was in line to become vice chair but had to withdraw when he was nominated to the Supreme Court.
Breyer delivered a keynote address at the 2002 ABA Annual Meeting and spoke virtually to the ABA General Assembly in 2020. In 2021, he was a featured virtual speaker for the April annual meeting of the Section of International Law and made a similar appearance in March 2016.
Among his many other appearances at ABA programs, he joined Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to discuss civic literacy at the 2011 Annual Meeting.
“We could not find a more deserving recipient of our Association’s highest honor, the ABA Medal,” said ABA President Reginald Turner. “Justice Breyer is a giant in the legal world who has dedicated nearly 50 years of his career to public service. His support of the ABA, coupled with his commitment to the rule of law and his profound contributions to making our democracy function fairly, is truly inspiring.”
During his extensive career, Breyer’s contributions and influence have extended to numerous aspects of law. As a professor at Harvard Law School, he has been credited by many scholars with transforming the field of administrative law to make it more pragmatic by taking into account the reasoning and expertise of federal agencies, the substance of rules and regulations and the likely impact on people. In 1994, he became an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, where he has served for 28 years until his retirement June 30.
Breyer has always exhibited a strong allegiance to the rule of law and an unwavering belief in judicial independence. He has made the point often to many different audiences that judges achieve independence by instilling trust. To accomplish that, he said, they must persuade the public that they are not politicians in robes and that they make their best effort to decide cases based on the law, not on personal preferences.
The ABA Medal is bestowed upon a lawyer for “exceptionally distinguished service ... to the cause of American jurisprudence.” Past recipients include lawyers who have served on the Supreme Court of the United States, including Chief Justices Warren E. Burger and Charles Evans Hughes, and Associate Justices Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Sandra Day O’Connor, Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan, Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Tom Clark and Felix Frankfurter.