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Portrait of Stephen Gerald Breyer
Portrait of Stephen Gerald Breyer.
Reproduction courtesy of the Supreme Court Historical Society.
Stephen Gerald Breyer

b. August 15, 1938, San Francisco, CA

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

Stephen Gerald Breyer grew up in a middle-class Jewish household in San Francisco. His father was legal counsel for the San Francisco Board of Education, and his mother, the child of Eastern Europe immigrants, was active in local politics and imbued Breyer with a belief in public service. He graduated from San Francisco's prestigious Lowell High School in 1955 and went on to Stanford University, where he majored in philosophy and received his A.B. in 1959. After graduation he attended Magdelen College, Oxford, on a Marshall Scholarship and studied philosophy and economics. He subsequently enrolled in Harvard Law School, where he edited the law review and graduated magna cum laude in 1964. He clerked for Justice Arthur Goldberg from 1965 to 1967 and left to join the faculty of Harvard Law School, teaching administrative law, among other subjects. That year he began serving in the office of the assistant U.S. attorney general. He served on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force in 1973, was a senior aide to Senator Edward Kennedy, and was chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1979-1980, where he earned a reputation on both sides of the aisle for competence and impartiality.

In 1980, the last year of the Carter administration, Breyer was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. When Carter lost his bid for reelection, all his judicial appointments were ignored, except that of Stevens, who was approved with bipartisan support. He served on the appeals court from 1980 until 1994, becoming its chief judge in 1990 and proving himself to be a judicial moderate. In 1994 he was appointed by President Clinton to the Supreme Court.

Breyer's judicial philosophy is characterized by a concern for consequences, and he has criticized those who interpret the law in a way that, in his words, "places too much weight upon language, history, tradition, and precedent alone while understating the importance of consequences." After joining the Court, he quickly established his independence by joining in oral arguments on the very first case and issuing a dissent as his first opinion. He endorses judicial restraint, distrusts broad legal theory, and is deferential to law enforcement. Breyer's pragmatic approach to the law provides an intellectual counterbalance to Scalia's zealously conservative and textual philosophy.

In 1967 Breyer married the daughter of an English lord. This contributed significantly to his personal wealth, though it did little to change his unaffected lifestyle, and he continued to ride the bus to work and mow his own lawn. The Breyers have three grown children, two sons and a daughter, who is an Episcopal priest.

John Fox, a writer and documentary film producer, was series producer of the Emmy-winning PBS series HERITAGE: CIVILIZATION AND THE JEWS. Editor-in-chief of the award-winning HERITAGE DVD-ROM, he supervised the creation of its 540-map interactive atlas of world history. He is currently writing a book about the growth of communal intelligence over the centuries.

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