Nominated by President Clinton, Stephen Breyer took his seat on the United States Supreme Court on August 3, 1994. In his book Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution (Knopf/Doubleday), Breyer outlines his judicial philosophy and discusses how he goes about interpreting the Constitution, the statutes and the regulations that come before the court. Breyer applies his theory of Constitutional interpretation to some of the most divisive legal questions tackled by the high court in recent years — affirmative action, free speech, privacy, separation of church and state and campaign finance. He argues for a flexible and adaptive interpretation of the Constitution. Breyer states the need for justices to look at cases in light of how their decisions will promote what he calls “active liberty,” the Constitution’s aim of promoting participation by citizens in the processes of government. It’s an approach that emphasizes “the document’s underlying values” and looks broadly at a law’s purpose and consequences rather than relying on a rigid overarching theory of judicial interpretation.
“Since law is connected to life, judges, in applying a text in light of its purpose, should look to consequences including contemporary conditions, social, industrial and political, of the community to be affected,” Breyer says in the book.
Breyer was born in San Francisco, California, August 15, 1938. He received an A.B. from Stanford University, a B.A. from Magdalen College, Oxford, and an LL.B. from Harvard Law School. He served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg during the 1964 Term, and as assistant special prosecutor of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force in 1973. He was an assistant professor, professor of Law, and lecturer at Harvard Law School, 1967–1994, a professor at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, 1977–1980, and a visiting professor at the College of Law, Sydney, Australia and at the University of Rome. From 1980–1990, he served as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and as its chief judge, 1990–1994.
Pete Williams, NBC News Justice correspondent, interviewed Justice Breyer at Kentucky Author Forum. Williams has been covering the Justice Department and the Supreme Court since 1993; and, has been an Author Forum guest before, interviewing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2003.