Upon the announcement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement, Ted Ruger, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law, and Jacques deLisle, Stephen A. Cozen Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science, have released statements.
Both Ruger and deLisle served as law clerks for Justice Breyer.
Justice Breyer was a brilliant thinker and brought to the Supreme Court deep curiosity about, and respect for, facts about the real world and the way it operates. No Justice in history learned more from, and deferred more to, insights from science, medicine, economics, and other disciplines. In an era when we prize cross-disciplinary thought in the academy, Justice Breyer was the quintessential interdisciplinary jurist.
Justice Breyer (for whom I clerked when he was Chief Judge of the First Circuit) embodies a rare set of qualities that have made him an extraordinary jurist during his four decades on the bench. To be sure, a liberal—in the sense in which we now use that term to describe judges—but never an adherent to a rigid ideology. Possessed of an exceptionally keen intellect and the academic depth of the law professor he long was, yet, as many have noted, unfailingly pragmatic in his approach to weighty issues and to working with his colleagues. A deep believer in institutions and process and well-intentioned elite and experts, but acutely aware of the need to constrain and inform their actions with bounding principles, at times enforced by courts.
For those of us who work on international and foreign law, he was a welcome exception among his peers in believing that the outside world had something to teach to, as well as learn from, the U.S. and its court system. The Court, and American law, will be the poorer for his retirement although I am sure he will remain active in engaging the issues of the day. What is sadder is that his legacy feels too much like a throwback to an era on the Court, and in the country, that is, at least for now, no longer with us.
This story originally appears in Penn Law News.