June 6, 2023

Instead, the 83-year-old retired justice talks widely about the rule of law and insists he remains an optimist overall.

“I think for a long time we had a system in the U.S. that had been tweaked — its flaws and the way it went wrong from time to time,” he said.

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“But overall, I’m still an optimist,” Breyer added.

Breyer did not mention the string of losses liberals suffered on abortion, gun rights, the environment and religious freedom at the end of the last term. Instead, in an audience of lawyers at an American Bar Association conference in Chicago, he repeated the tension from past speeches and told the audience that the work of the ABA and lawyers in general matters.

He said judges “need outside help,” even if they may think they don’t.

Breyer repeated a story about the assurances he made years ago about the rule of law to a judge who visited him from abroad. He said he told her about Bush v. Gore — the Supreme Court’s controversial decision that determined the 2000 presidential election — and how then-D-Men. Harry Reid had emphasized that in opinion After the release, there was no riot in the streets.
“What Reed said,” recalls Breyer, maybe you know you have the rule of law, “is that when enough people are ready to accept opinions that affect them personally, they don’t like it.” (Brayer doesn’t mention recent events, Including the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.)

“This is not a pure country you know,” Breyer said he told the visiting judge.

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“There was a Civil War, there was slavery, 80 years of Jim Crow segregation,” Breyer said broadly. “But we try gradually … if this generation doesn’t do it, the next generation probably will.”

After being praised for writing more than 500 comments from the bench, Breyer started his conversation with a joke. “I have a question about your introduction,” he said. “You said I wrote 525 opinions — but why is the world in such a mess?” he laughed.

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