Lawyers ‘have to stand up and say something,’ Breyer tells ABA assembly

Annual meeting

Lawyers ‘have to stand up and say something,’ Breyer tells ABA assembly

Former United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer accepts the ABA Medal from ABA President Reginald Turner during General Assembly at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago. (Photo by ABA Media Relations)

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer plans to spend his retirement teaching seminars at Harvard Law School; write a book about what he learned during his long career as a lawyer and jurist; and encourage high school students to become more active in their government.

But Breyer also intends to help people better understand and support the rule of law as the new chair of the ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s board. In this role, he will oversee the 20-member board and five regional councils that guide the direction of ROLI, which promotes “justice, economic opportunity and human dignity through the rule of law” in 130 countries. for over 30 years.

“These are people who will be able to convince their neighbors and talk to their friends in countries around the world about why we in our little village or town should support a rule of law which means we will sometimes see the law take a form that we don’t like,” Breyer said in an interview with the ABA Journal. “We may be against it. The other person can win. But still, we support it. Why? The people who can best explain this are lawyers, judges and other experienced people.

“Many of them are in the United States, and many of them can tell their counterparts in other places how the United States has taken centuries to reach a stage where the rule of law matters. he has. The rule of law won’t save the world from the bad parts of human nature, but it can help.”

“A very valuable use of my time”

Breyer, who retired from the Supreme Court in late June and was replaced by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, served as special counsel to the ROLI board. He begins his new role at the close of the 2022 ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

Breyer adds that concerns about the rule of law in the United States and around the world can be addressed by continuing to emphasize to younger generations the importance of appreciating and accepting different viewpoints.

“Given the problems in the world and the way the world has shrunk, the way everyone is connected to everyone – which is good, but it can also be bad – I think it important that many, if not all, of these people understand the virtues of the rule of law,” says Breyer. its best.No one can do more than try, [and] here they try. To be a part of that and to spend even a little time helping that, I think is a very valuable use of my time.

The highest honor

Breyer attended the ABA’s annual meeting on Saturday to receive the ABA Medal, the association’s highest honor.

A member of the ABA since 1988, Breyer said during his address to the General Assembly that a fellow professor at Harvard Law School encouraged him to get involved. He was active in the administrative law and regulatory practice section until President Bill Clinton appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1994.

He mentioned several reasons why it remains important for lawyers and other legal professionals to participate in the association and attend its meetings. One of them, he said, is that the ABA “is an important and core part of the law itself in America.”

Breyer explained that after the courts issue opinions, law professors read, analyze and critique them. Next, he said, lawyers read academic opinions and research to get the best results for their clients. By coming back to court, lawyers allow judges to better understand what they have done and whether they need to adjust their decisions.

“And so, you have a growing body of doctrine in most places, which hopefully, as Martin Luther King said, ‘is moving toward justice,'” Breyer said. “It’s not always the case, but we hope. And those parts of the profession that work together, I think, generally go in that direction at least some of the time. And where it doesn’t, we try to make it do more.

“Get up and say something”

Breyer also shared the story of a Supreme Court official in Ghana who once asked him, “Why do people do what you say?” He told her what Harry Reid, a former Democratic Senate leader from Nevada, said after the Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling in Bush versus Gorewhich effectively cemented the victory of Republican candidate George W. Bush over Democratic candidate Al Gore.

“I disagreed with Bush versus GoreI was dissenting, and what Reid said was, ‘You know, the rule of law, maybe you have it when you’re ready – or enough people are ready – to accept an opinion that affects them personally, but they don’t like the way it affects them. And by the way, maybe that’s wrong,” Breyer said. “That describes a lot of [opinions].”

But, Breyer added, because the rule of law is respected in the United States, “there were no stone-throwing in the streets, there were no rocket attacks, there was no beating” about the decision. To ensure this continues in this country, he stressed that it is up to lawyers to maintain a strong legal system.

“It means the lawyers for this organization and others have to stand up and say something when they think something is against the rule of law,” Breyer said. “Because that’s what they’re talking about.”

The ABA also recognized U.S. Senators Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, for their lifetime legislative achievements during Saturday’s General Assembly. Due to a vote on a landmark climate, tax and health bill, they were unable to attend in person and accepted their awards virtually.

Comments are closed.