Stephen Breyer

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Stephen Breyer
Stephen Breyer.jpg
Court Information:
Supreme Court of the United States
Title:   Associate justice
Position:   Seat #3
Appointed by:   Bill Clinton
Approval vote:   87-9
Active:   8/3/1994-Present
Preceded by:   Harry Blackmun
Past post:   First Circuit
Past chief:   1990-1994
Past term:   1980-1994
Past position:   Seat #4
Personal History
Born:   8/15/1938
Hometown:   San Francisco, CA
Undergraduate:   Stanford University, 1959
Oxford University, 1961
Law School:   Harvard Law School, 1964
Military service:   United States Army

Stephen Gerald Breyer is the 108th associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was appointed in 1994 by Democratic President Bill Clinton. Prior to appointment, Breyer served on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. He served on that court from 1980 to 1994, serving as chief judge for his last four years. Stephen Breyer's brother is Senior District Court Judge Charles Breyer.[1][2]

Judicial philosophy

In a review of his 2010 book, "Making Our Democracy Work, a Judge's View," Breyer argues that:

The job of the Supreme Court is to apply the Constitution's values to modern circumstances, using the tools of judging: precedent, text and an assessment of the purpose of the constitutional provision at issue.[3][4]

Breyer also believes in the Living Constitution. Nina Totenberg, NPR legal affairs correspondent, wrote of his views:

Breyer argues that the founders did want a living Constitution; they wrote a Constitution they wanted to last for the ages. The founders knew "perfectly well that conditions would change. The values don't change. The circumstances do."[3][4]

Early life and education

Stephen Breyer was born in San Francisco, California. Breyer's father was legal counsel for the San Francisco Board of Education.

Breyer earned a B.A. in philosophy from Stanford University in 1959, a B.A. from Magdalen College at the University of Oxford as a Marshall Scholar in 1961, and an LL.B. from Harvard Law School in 1964. While at Harvard, Breyer was the article editor at the Harvard Law Review.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many

Military service

Breyer served in the United States Army and obtained the rank of corporal. He served actively for six months, from June to December of 1957. He was honorably discharged after eight years as an army reserve member.

Professional career

  • 1985-1989: Commissioner, United States Sentencing Commission
  • 1979-1980: Chief counsel, Senate Judiciary Committee
  • 1977-1980: Professor, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
  • 1975: Visiting lecturer, College of Law, Sydney, Australia
  • 1974-1975: Special counsel, Administrative Practices Subcommittee, Senate Judiciary Committee
  • 1973: Assistant special prosecutor, Watergate Special Prosecution Force
  • 1967-1994: Faculty, Harvard Law School
  • 1981-1994: Lecturer
  • 1967-1980: Professor

Supreme Court of the United States

Opinions by year

Below is a table of the number of opinions, concurrences, dissents and splits (concur in part, dissent in part) that Stephen Breyer has issued since joining the Supreme Court, according to the data at Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute.[6]

1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Opinions 9 10 8 12 8 9 9 11 9 6 10 6 8 7 8 8 5 0 0
Concurrences 3 6 8 7 4 10 3 7 3 5 9 3 2 2 7 6 5 0 0
Dissents 7 3 11 7 4 10 11 6 4 10 5 8 6 10 10 6 12 1 0
Concur in part, Dissent in part 1 3 2 1 4 0 0 1 3 0 0 3 3 2 2 1 1 0 0
Totals 20 22 29 27 20 29 23 25 19 21 24 20 19 21 27 21 23 1 0

Notable cases

Supreme Court major cases by term

Nomination and confirmation

Nomination Tracker
 Candidate:Stephen Breyer
 Court:Supreme Court of the United States
 Progress:Confirmed 83 days after nomination.
ApprovedANominated:May 7, 1994
ApprovedAABA Rating:Unanimously Well Qualified
ApprovedAHearing:July 12-15, 1994
ApprovedAHearing Transcript:Hearing Transcript
ApprovedAReported:July 25, 1994 
ApprovedAConfirmed:July 29, 1994
 Vote: 87-9

In 1993, President Bill Clinton considered Stephen Breyer for the seat vacated by Byron White that ultimately went to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. However, Breyer's appointment came shortly thereafter, following the retirement of Harry Blackmun in 1994. Clinton nominated Breyer to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court on May 17 of that year.[9]

The American Bar Association rated Breyer Unanimously Well Qualified to become an associate justice for the Supreme Court. Breyer found little resistance during his confirmation hearings. Two Republican senators expressed concerns, Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Robert C. Smith (R-NH). Lugar worried that investments with Lloyd's of London would cause possible conflicts of interest, while Smith found that Breyer stressed separation of church and state and could not "in good conscience, vote to confirm a nominee whose personal background, judicial record and testimony indicates he will move the Supreme Court away from ... conservative decisions."[10][11]

Breyer was confirmed by the Senate on July 29, 1994, by a vote 87-9. He took his seat on August 3, 1994.[1]

Oath of office

Justice Breyer took the Constitutional and Judicial oaths of office on August 3, 1994, in Vermont. The oaths were administered by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.[12]

First Circuit

From 1980 to 1994, Justice Breyer served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Breyer served as the court's chief judge from 1990 to 1994. He was nominated to the court of appeals by President Jimmy Carter on November 13, 1980. In the last days of the Carter administration, on December 9, 1980, the United States Senate confirmed Breyer by an 80-10 vote. He served as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States between 1990 and 1994 and the United States Sentencing Commission between 1985 and 1989.[13]

Awards and associations

The following is a list of awards and associations listed by Justice Breyer on his judicial questionnaire at the time of his nomination.[14]


  • 1987: ABA Annual Award for Scholarship in Administrative Law
  • 1983: Honorary Degree, University of Rochester, Graduate School of Management
  • Eagle Scout
  • General Motors Scholar at Stanford


Bar associations

  • Administrative Law Section, Judicial Representative
  • Judicial Administration Division
  • American Law Institution
  • American Bar Foundation
  • Honorary Member, National Lawyers Club
  • Judicial Delegate, Administrative Conference of the United States
  • Federal Judges Association
  • Carnegie Commission, Task Force on Science and Technology in Judicial and Regulatory Decision Making
  • Judicial Conference of the United States
  • Chairman, First Circuit Judicial Council
  • United States Sentencing Commission
  • Federal Judges Merit Selection Panel, Massachusetts District Court
  • American Bar Association Standing Committee on Continuing Legal Education
  • Judicial Representative, American Bar Association Committee on Government Standards

Other associations

  • Trustee, Dana Farber Cancer Institute
  • Member, American Academy of Arts & Sciences
  • Member, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Member, Harvard Club
  • Member, Cambridge Tennis Club
  • Member, Nisi Prius Club
  • Member, Lawyers' Club
  • Member, Saturday Club
  • Member, Curtis Club
  • Visiting Committee of the University of Chicago Law School
  • Board of Trustees, Dia Art Foundation
  • National Academy of Sciences, Committee to Study Saccharin and Food Safety
  • Board of Stearns' Village Cooperative Nursery School
  • Harvard-Ford Foundation Steering Committee, Inquiry into Public Policy Concerning Children in America[14]

Religious beliefs

During oral arguments in the 2013 case Town of Greece v. Galloway, Justice Breyer answered a question from Justice Scalia that lead observers to assume that Breyer is an atheist. The conversation went as follows:

What is the equivalent of prayer for somebody who is not religious?[4]

—Justice Scalia[15]

Perhaps he's asking me that question and I can answer it later.[4]

—Justice Breyer[15]


Breyer enjoys cycling and cooking.[16]

Cycling injuries

On April 27, 2013, Breyer fell off his bicycle while riding on the National Mall and broke his right shoulder. As a result, he had shoulder replacement surgery. In addition to his 2013 injury, Breyer was hit by a car on his bicycle in 1993, which left him with broken ribs and a punctured lung.[17][18]

Recent news

This section displays the most recent stories in a Google news search for the terms "Stephen Breyer Supreme Court 2015."

Some of the stories below may not be relevant to this page due to the nature of Google's news search engine.

Stephen Breyer - Google News Feed

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See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Federal Judicial Center, "Breyer, Stephen Gerald"
  2. SCOTUSblog, "Wal-Mart bias challenge fails again," August 5th, 2013
  3. 3.0 3.1, "History through a Supreme Court justice's lens," September 13, 2010
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  5. Supreme Court of the United States, "Current justice biographies," accessed July 30, 2014
  6. Cornell University, "WRITINGS BY JUSTICE BREYER," accessed April 2, 2014
  7. Supreme Court of the United States, "Illinois v. Lidster," January 13, 2004
  8. Supreme Court of the United States, "Eldred v. Ashcroft," January 15, 2003
  9. New York Times, "Clinton names Ruth Ginsburg, advocate for women, to court," June 15, 1993
  10. American Bar Association, "Ratings of Judicial Nominees for the 103rd Congress," accessed July 8, 2014
  11. Los Angeles Times, "Senate backs Breyer confirmation, 87-9 : Judiciary: Vote ensures that he can join the Supreme Court for start of its fall term in October. He is expected to take the oath of office next week.," July 30, 1994
  12. Supreme Court of the United States, "Oaths of Office Taken by the Current Court," accessed September 3, 2013
  13. Supreme Court of the United States, "Supreme Court biographies of current justices," accessed July 30, 2014
  14. 14.0 14.1 THOMAS, "Nomination of Stephen Breyer to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States," accessed July 8, 2014
  15. 15.0 15.1 The Huffington Post, "Did a Supreme Court justice just admit to being an atheist?" November 8, 2013
  16. Cornell University, "Stephen Breyer biography," accessed July 8, 2014
  17. SCOTUSBlog, "Justice Breyer injured in fall," April 27, 2013
  18. Washington Post, "Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer fractures shoulder in biking accident in D.C.," April 27, 2014
Political offices
Preceded by:
Harry Blackmun
Supreme Court
Seat #3
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
NA - new seat
First Circuit
Seat #4
Succeeded by:
Sandra Lea Lynch