Sunday, October 2, 2022

‘Justice of great wisdom’: SF-born Justice Breyer resigns from Supreme Court

Stephen Breyer is a native of San Francisco who, like his younger brother Charles, became an Eagle Scout, attended the elite Lowell High School, then followed his father’s path into the legal profession.

But in his case, Path led a nearly 28-year term in the U.S. Supreme Court, and a record as a relatively moderate liberal who sought a middle ground on an increasingly divided court, with only occasional success.

Breyer, 83, is retiring on Thursday at the end of the court’s 2021-22 term. His final opinion included disagreement with conservative majority rulings that overturned the constitutional right to abortion that the court had established in 1973 and declared the constitutional right to carry concealed firearms in public, California and five Repealed laws in other states.

She will be replaced by Ketanji Brown Jackson, a federal appeals court judge nominated by President Biden who will be the first black woman on the nation’s high court.

Breyer has at times sided with his more conservative allies, as in a 2013 decision allowing police to take DNA samples from people arrested for serious felony charges, and a 2017 decision allowing Missouri to play a game. State funding for the grounds’ revival program required the inclusion of a church school. But he was also among the few judges who claimed the death penalty was unconstitutional, writing in a 2015 dissent that the death penalty has been arbitrarily and discriminatory and killed innocent people.

Irwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at UC Berkeley and a liberal legal scholar who has argued cases before the court, said, “He was a justice of great intelligence and cared deeply about the court as an institution. ” “But ultimately, he was a moderate in a very conservative court.”

UC Berkeley law professor Orin Kerr said Breyer was “a credible vote for the liberal side in most of the high-profile cases that divided the court, but he also had a tendency to look center and compromise.”

Breyer was born on 15 August 1938. His mother, Anne Roberts Breuer, was active in the League of Women Voters and Democratic Politics. His father, Irving Breyer, the son of former San Francisco supervisor Samuel Breyer, was a legal advisor to the city’s board of education for 40 years.

Stephen Breyer became an Eagle Scout at the age of 12 and, according to a profile in US News & World Report, was commonly referred to as “Troop Brain”. He was a star on the debate team at Lowell and participated in debates against teams that included future governor Jerry Brown and future Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe.

“You can find potential lawyers early on,” Breyer’s high school debate coach was quoted as saying in a 1994 interview. “He’d do copious research on a debatable topic while the other kids were out, you know, doing things like stealing hubcaps.”

After graduating at the top of his class, Breuer attended Stanford University, where he majored in philosophy and graduated with honors in 1959. In a speech at Stanford’s 1997 graduating class that included his son Michael, Breyer recalled an essay he had read in college. About the novel “Jane Eyre”: “Charlotte Bronte’s Story of a Reign … tells us that every person’s life is a story of passion, its moments of joy and happiness, or tragedy or sorrow. And the story of every person different from each other.”

Breuer was awarded a scholarship for postgraduate work at the University of Oxford in England, then attended Harvard Law School, where he graduated with honors in 1964. He then spent a year as a law clerk and two years as one for Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. Lawyer for the Department of Justice before returning to Harvard in 1967 as a professor of law.

It was also in 1967 that Breyer married Joanna Freda Hare, the English-born daughter of a Member of Parliament, who later became a psychologist and Harvard Medical School teacher. they have three children.

His brother Charles attended Harvard and UC Berkeley Law School, was an assistant district attorney in San Francisco, then privately practiced law for more than two decades, before President Bill Clinton took him to San Francisco in 1997. Appointed to the US District Court where he resides. bench. In 1973, both brothers served on the Justice Department’s prosecution team, which investigated the Watergate break-in and coverup under President Richard Nixon.

Following his tenure at Watergate, Breyer joined the staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee, serving as its chief counsel in 1979–80 when President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the First US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. He spent 14 years there, the last four as its chief justice, with President Bill Clinton naming him in 1994 to succeed retired Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who authored the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The Senate confirmed him by 87. -9 votes.

Breyer has maintained his predecessor’s support of abortion rights. His 2000 decision led to a Nebraska law banning the common procedure of second-trimester abortion, which opponents had dubbed “partial-birth abortion”; Seven years later, a court with new members upheld a similar federal law, which Breyer disagreed with. She also wrote a 2016 decision overturning a Texas law that requires abortion clinics to have surgical facilities and enroll their doctors to practice in nearby hospitals.

He joined in a 2012 decision that upheld the Most Affordable Care Act, a law sponsored by President Barack Obama that provided government subsidies for health insurance, then wrote a 7-2 decision last year in which the Republican-led Claims from the states were rejected that the law was unconstitutional because congressional Republicans had repealed the tax penalty for those refusing to purchase insurance.

Breuer’s efforts to mediate and settle in court were featured in the deciding votes cast by him in two 2005 cases involving the display of religious monuments on government property.

He voted with a 5–4 majority to allow the monument depicting the Ten Commandments to remain in a public park where a private organization funded its placement in 1961. On the same day, he was part of a 5-4 majority that was relegated. The Ten Commandments are displayed from two courthouses in Kentucky. Breyer said those demonstrations were more recent, clearly religiously motivated and more likely to be divisive than a Texas memorial.

Following the September 2020 death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which allowed President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Senate to immediately confirm Justice Amy Connie Barrett and strengthen the court’s conservative majority, Breyer relieved Democrats when He finally announced his plans to retire. The tenure of the court enabled Biden to choose his successor.

In an interview with the New York Times last June, Breyer recalled a conversation with Justice Antonin Scalia, whose death in February 2016 could have changed the majority of the court. Instead, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell declined to hold a hearing for Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, to fill a vacancy Trump had appointed in 2017 by appointing Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Quoting Scalia, Breuer said: “I don’t want to hire someone who will reverse everything I’ve done over the past 25 years.”

Bob Agelko is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @BobEgelko

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