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Associate Justice Stephen Breyer

The Philosopher

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"The court has found no single mechanical formula that can accurately draw the constitutional line in every case."
Stephen Breyer

Associate Justice Stephen Breyer

Image Courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court
Because he trusts the democratic process more than he does sweeping judicial philosophies, Justice Breyer writes without footnotes and generally supports the will of Congress. When he does strike down legislation, he does so with remarkable calmness and objectivity.

Vital Statistics


67 years old. Graduated from Stanford University (magna cum laude, 1959), Oxford University (first-class honours, 1961), and Harvard Law School (magna cum laude, 1964), where he served as articles editor of the Harvard Law Review. Reform Jew. Married to British clinical psychologist Joanna Hare Breyer, with three adult children and two grandchildren.

Career Background


1964-1965: Clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg.

1965-1967: Assistant (for the Antitrust Division) to U.S. Attorneys General Nicholas Katzenbach and Ramsey Clark under the Johnson administration.

1967-1994: Assistant Professor of Law at Harvard University, upgraded to full Professor in 1970. Also served as a Professor in Harvard's Kennedy School of Government from 1977-1980.

1973: Member of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force.

1974-1975: Special Counsel for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

1975: Visiting Professor of Law at the College of Law in Sydney, Australia.

1979-1980: Chief Counsel for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

1980-1990: Associate Justice of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

1985-1989: Member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

1990-1994: Chief Justice of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

1993: Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Rome in Rome, Italy.

Nomination and Approval


In May 1994, President Bill Clinton nominated Breyer to replace the retiring Associate Justice Harry Blackmun. Facing little controversy and broad bipartisan support, he was approved (87-9) by the Senate.

Landmark Cases


Eldred v. Ashcroft (2003): Dissented from a majority ruling affirming the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), which added 20 years to the life of a registered copyright.

Illinois v. Lidster (2004): Wrote for a 6-3 majority in ruling that roadblocks set up to gather information on a specific criminal investigation may not be used to conduct unrelated searches on motorists.

Oregon v. Guzek (2006): Wrote for a unanimous Court which ruled that new alibi evidence may not be introduced at the sentencing phase of a trial.

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