To honor Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s first twenty years of service on the United States Supreme Court, Harvard Law School planned a celebration and many individual faculty members wrote reflections on some of his opinions. Those reflections are assembled here along with our community’s deepest admiration and appreciation. As one of the small number of individuals in American history who have offered their service at the highest levels of all three branches of the United States government, Justice Breyer has devoted his professional life to advancing the public good. He does so with intellectual rigor, imagination, and wisdom, all in evidence in the cases discussed in the comments that follow.
One distinctive feature of his judicial opinions is the perspective afforded from his deep knowledge of how government works. As Special Assistant to the Assistant Attorney General in the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and Assistant Special Prosecutor on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, 1973, he worked to enforce the law. As Special Counsel and then Chief Counsel for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and Special Counsel for the Subcommittee on Administrative Practices, he pursued legislative factfinding, lawmaking, oversight, and advice and consent work. His service within the judiciary started when he worked as a law clerk to Justice Arthur J. Goldberg at the Supreme Court of the United States, and continued with his service on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, where he also served as Chief Judge, as a member of the Judicial Conference, and as a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission at the time of its development of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
Harvard University has been lucky he decided to come East following college at Stanford University and West following his time as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University. A distinguished student and editor of the Harvard Law Review, he returned as a law professor and professor at the Kennedy School of Government. A prolific and influential scholar, his powerful work on risk regulation, regulatory reform, energy regulation, making democracy work, and judicial interpretation reflects both his first-hand experiences in governing and deep commitments to rational decisionmaking, governmental deliberation, and citizen participation. His civic service on the boards of educational and health care institutions and his bicycling, his cooking, and his wide and constant reading help to explain the breadth of his knowledge, but his sense of humor is all his own.
It is with joy that we offer these reflections on some of his judicial work.