Scalia Lecture | Justice Stephen G. Breyer, “The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics”



At Harvard Law School’s annual Scalia lecture on April 6, 2021, Stephen G. Breyer ’64, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, warned against alterations to the nation’s highest Court that could erode the public’s longstanding confidence in the judiciary, instead inviting the American people, and the Court itself, to work together to maintain and build trust in the rule of law.

The Scalia lecture series, which was established by an anonymous donor in 2013 in honor of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin G. Scalia ’60, is aimed at promoting and advancing the understanding of the founding principles and core doctrines of the U.S. Constitution.

Read more at Harvard Law Today

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31 comments

  1. Very educational. This is a great historical document that will be used to show who this man was for generations to come and to teach lay people like me some critical lessons about the judicial branch of the United States and the Supreme Court as an institution.

  2. LOL. The courts. Justice. Please don't make me laugh. Wasn't Scalia the one murdered at the Pedo ranch out west? He respected the law? Please don't make me laugh any more. My side is hurting. Please stop!

  3. The main difference between Justice Breyer and Scalia is a divide that exists within the wider world, on one hand you have the people who believe in objective truth and that the court should seek to strive toward upholding this unchanging principle of reality, these are the people who revere the constitution and would die to protect it they are also usually Christian, in Christianity there is a clear distinction between good and bad, there is God's Truth and laws which stand above the laws of Man.

    The other camp believes truth changes with time and is different for everyone, they are relativists and usually quite secular, they have a hard time with binary concepts such as good and bad and so everything opens up for interpretation, they don't care for the constitution because they believe its an outdated document, the law should reflect whatever Man decides is the law.

    These two polarities are exactly what differentiates Order from Chaos, God from Satan, Capitalism from Communism. Capitalism believes that if everyone has the freedom to pursue their own aims it will all balance out perfectly, Communism however is Man's ideal, it says "life is unfair and we must make it fair", it doesn't like that people suffer and some people turn out rich and others poor, they lack a spiritual framework in which they can view these things as just, they seek to eradicate "unfairness" (as they see it), through institutional power they lay down the law (Man's law) upon all its subjects and ultimately ends up in totalitarianism.

    They are obsessed with that which is different, anything which is in a minority is praised, anything which is a majority is seen as an oppressor, in their world there are no majorities or minorities, there is no difference between male and female, good or bad, the world as they see it is an amorphous thing which is devoid of any life. This worldview has pushed people into seeking out ever more creative ways of making themselves part of a minority rather than a majority, by ascribing deviating sexual preferences, by creating combinations of race, gender, physical disability, mental disability etc etc… Which has resulted in an explosion of terms that increasingly seem to have no defining characteristics at all. How can you define a word if the very act of definition (namely the restriction of meaning to a single thing) is seen as evil? To define a "woman" for them is almost a hate crime, how dare you define something objectively to mean something so narrow?

    In the end their chaos seeps into every facet of society which ultimately will spell its inevitable demise, you cannot create a bridge without fixed structures, you cannot make calculations in physics if the formulae keep on changing. At some point whatever you think about reality has to come in contact with what reality truly is, it is not something which can be endlessly manipulated by the mind into whatever we want it to be. At the end of the day each of us will have to use the toilet, our stomachs will growl when we don't eat, when we fall from a sufficient height we will feel pain. We are not God's who are exempt from the laws of this world, and this is why Satanism is such a good analogy for the progressive left, both spit on the notion that there exists a Truth which does not bend to their will, they rebuke the idea of God and seek to become Gods themselves.

    This is the oldest story of the world it seems, told to us through myths. To all who think they are so great think of this one thing, you do not control anything, you do not control whether your heart beats now or stops the next second, you do not control who your parents were or with what characteristics and predispositions you were born with, you do not control whether in your early life you would come into contact with some very evil people or some very good people. You do not control even meeting the love of your life! The person who understands that they are powerless in the grand scheme of things will fall to their knees and thank God for all they have been given. Those who have been gifted with a quick mind very easily start feeling superior to others even though they were lucky enough to have been born in that way.

    I don't agree with Justice Breyer, I think Christian thinking became perverted when tolerance was turned into indiscriminateness, when in the name of acceptance we came to accept that which was evil. You will know them by their fruits! I can confidently say that their fruits are rotten! Destruction of the traditional family, declining birthrates and increasing chaos has been their gift to the world.

    And now they have come to retire him, even though he has served their agenda well, he isn't as radical as they are, as always with the leftists, they end up devouring their own until there is nothing left. God speed.

  4. Sir, please stay on the court. I'm a big fan of you and justice Scalia since 8th grade ever since I heard one of your discussions hosted by the federalist society and always wanted to clerk for one of you. I'm now a second-year college student(planning to graduate early). So maybe 6 more years until I can apply to clerk for you?

  5. Pack the Supreme Court with one Supreme justice fir each state. The existential justices have no credibility whatsoever now do pack it and give them a 19 year term . Oh and shoot the justices that refused to hear the voter fraud. Shoot them

  6. Well thought provoking lecture as expressed from a highly experienced authoritarian of our Judicial Branch. Thoroughly enjoyed, in its entirety, the delivery of our judicial process from a man who should NOT give in to those calling for his retirement… Justice, your delivery was indeed engaging which offered an enjoyable perspective for me, a Conservative female. Thank you ~

  7. Justice Breyer has acted as a faithful servant of our country and of the law in this moment. He hasn't been my favorite justice, but Breyer has done more to safeguard the institution of the Court through this address than Chief Justice Roberts has through various maneuvers to that end in recent years.

  8. Breyer is feeble-minded like most octogenarians and should retire now. Liberals were pretty stupid in encouraging Ruth Bader Ginsburg to stay in the court too long and got Amy Coney Barrett, who will likely be the vote to overturn Roe, as a result. Why are they making the same mistake? Harvard Law School should be telling Breyer that it’s well last time he were sent out to pasture rather giving him a speaking platform.

  9. Listening to this, it makes the decision of the court to NOT hear Trump's case understandable. I think they were maintaining the authority of the court. I think they knew that regardless of what the decision was, if they heard the case, half the country would lose respect for the court and stop listening to them. They would have lost an enormous amount of authority and it's doubtful they would have gotten it back in time to do this country any good.

    Thinking of it in this way, I think they made the right choice.

  10. Clarence Thomas’s wife funded the terrorist insurrection on Jan 6 and we’re supposed to have faith in the current Supreme Court? The pro-life justices lynched 12 Black men and 1 woman on Trump and Barr’s murder spree for fun. The pandemic hasn’t cause enough death for the Supreme Court. Kennedy stepped down under suspicious circumstances. No, we don’t have faith in the Court.

  11. In the future America (2nd beast of Revelation 13 will form an image to the 1st beast(Papacy). Lamb like beast with 2 horns (separation of church and state)that will speak as a dragon (Through its LAWS). No wonder in the future there will be Sunday Law (forced Sunday worship/rest/false Sabbath) will be passed as prophecied which is the Mark of the beast because its the counterfeit of God’s true Bible Saturday sabbath/rest which Satan hates because Sabbath is a memorial of God’s creation and He as A CREATOR of all. This Sunday law, Whoever will not comply will be persecuted, killed, cant buy or sell. However God will save His people and the end will come. FYI: Not to mention 6 out 9 justices currently are Catholics.

  12. My question for The SCOTUS is are the rich and politically connected more valuable then a ordinary citizen? I ask because in NY where crime is skyrocketing, NY deny’s its citizens their civil right to self defense via their subjective “may issue” scheme for lawful carry of a firearm for self defense. I believe objective (even) standards would be required to protect citizens constitutional rights.

  13. Great lecture. Im not a legal professional, or even an American, I still found this very enganging and interesting. That should say something about justice Breyers communication skills.

  14. Seems like Michael Sandel.
    …………………………………………
    Written in a comment sections elsewhere:
    Ophthalmologist? Technically speaking … yet, in the scheme of things … in a position of authority, as a Senator, to assess competence of, or quality of information, in light of any interest or lack of disinterest in other collateral or non-collatoral outcomes, from which to base and make decisions, and, it sounds like that capacity to make decisions is combined with competence in making decisions. Whether there is agreeance or not in any decisions, is a different matter.

    Written in a comment sections elsewhere:
    Citizenship …. analogy, Roman Emperor Caracalla granted citizenship in the Empire to all free subjects, afterwhich, the second-class status of the foreigners ended. The masks in question here, seem to be about keeping a virus, a foreign entity, out of the body to, in theory prevent a person from being infected from the virus. There are those who are infected by a foreign entity and those who aren't, or, those injected with a foreign entity and those who naturally were infected with a foreign entity, or, those who are perceived to be immune from being infected and those who are perceived not to be immune from being infected, although,  but eitherway, it would seem there are, two classes of citizens. Inscribed on the wall, in stone, above the flag, that is behind the chair, "In God we trust". It seems like, in saying 'you are not God', it is being suggested that a single person is deciding for all, who should be and who should not be, considered, foreign?
    (Madam Speaker, You Are Not God!': Madison Cawthorn Decries Pelosi For Mask Mandate In House
    Forbes Breaking News)

    From a marketing perspective? How does it compare to, say if, you were two consenting adults in a de facto relationship and couldn't book a table for two or a hotel room unless you showed a marriage certificate? Or, how about if you needed to be baptised and prove it? Or, etc.

    If vaccinations are going to be compared, comparing seasonal yearly vaccinations like covid and the flu seems like it makes sense, however, childhood one off vaccinations, less so. Also, 'no jab no play' sounds like discrimination and 'benefit of your immunity' sounds like an individualistic approach rather than a collective commitment, and, are children 'self-isolated' for a period of time immediately after getting vaccinated as their body is essentially fighting whichever childhood illness they were just injected with to build up immunity?

    I had my vaccinations as a child. I still got chickenpox and the likes, while still a child and after I had my vaccinations.

    1:58 min … "people are not being hospitalised who get this vaccine", because: you don't need to, or, it is assumed you don't need to, or, it is protocol, or, etc?
    2:04 min … "if you have the vaccine, you're not going to be hospitalised, you're not going to die …" … people die in hospital?
    4:32 min … "why are we not talking about …? " ….sounds like a good conversation to have, and, a good doctor and or a good educator are a heaven send.

    Are there other reasons those 'virus patients' are in hospital, like comorbidities? Perhaps, medically, those 'virus patients' weren't or aren't in a position to get vaccinated?

    It sounds like by injecting the vaccination, the natural barriers or defences being bypassed, like the skin barrier being broken to get a pathogen past it and also not including otolaryngology. It does not sound inclusive.

    Isn't the population growth in decline in 'western' countries?

    Is that, a cause for risk, or, no cause for risk, or, a risk without a cause, or, a risk that is taken for a cause, and, with or without a cause, or, is that all up for appeal or down to an appeal?

    Genetic or gene:
    origin: fingerprint, diagnose, causation, derive, etc? … genetic drift?
    screening: all don't have to, it is an option for all, a couple, an individual, all of a next generation don't have to, it is an option for all of a next generation, etc.?
    fund: fingerprint(direct), marker(indirect), test, counselling, underclass?; (through intermediaries: third party, del credere agent, intermediate courts?).

    ….. health insurers, to gain or underclass?

    It may sound like the issue is a question of vaccination, one of education, in science, statistics and seriousness of outcome, or convictions, however, it seems like the issue is confusion around duty of care and causation.
    It looks like the consensus is, that the extent to which being vaccinated eliminates transmission, is uncertain, therefore, a civic duty argument for being vaccinated to minimise transmission, to eliminate causation as a factor with certainty, seems moot, and as a precautionary burden, not the most pragmatic.
    If on the other hand, the idea of vaccination is to provide, at a lower intensity, an immune response to give a memory for the body on how to deal with a virus if it should encounter it again, then, perhaps, it is that the government ought to have a duty of care to make vaccinations available and accessible, with and through educational information, however, it sounds like it is as if the body has no memory if there is a variation of the virus, and, there are new variations of the virus each season, then, on balancing competing beneficial outcomes, it may not be of social utility to expect that vaccinations ought to be available for all?

    A … question de jure? … in law or a question of law? … or, rather than in fact, of fact, de facto? How about Net Zero Emissions? coal? How about charcoal and fireplaces keeping houses warm in winter? Does Net Zero Emissions mean that if those emissions can be captured before entering the atmosphere, then that is ok? If carbon is used as fuel in a closed system, that would be ok?
    Aren't humans carbon based, created by carbon emissions? Will human creation become a closed system?
    Cells need oxygen and concern for how oxygen in the atmosphere is affected makes sense, but does net zero make sense when from within a body, oxygen can be affected by a blood clot, and at the same time, considered, when it comes to vaccination/inoculation, an acceptable risk?
    (…. carbon pricing, zero sum game, pareto principles, nash equilibrium, etc?)

    Is it not possible banks, other businesses, legal executive officers, already are involved in activism, directing their customers down certain paths if those customers want to continue business with them?

    With "activism", something like the following was in mind: Is Judicial activism the only form of legal type activism to potentially serve a political goal or further a political agenda, subverting self-governance, self-government, executive, judicial, legislative processes? Has this not been interpreted correctly? (It's a question written on fb in reference to a Harvard Law School yt video.).

    Also, coming across a yt video with Former Supreme Court Justice Souter speaking, and after listening to it, makes it seem like maybe the question isn't completely silly, and, 'who knows'?

    It doesn't seem unreasonable to agree that politics interacts with many aspects of everyone's lives, only, to what extent? If the concept understood correctly, there is water in air and we all breathe air, however, we don't remove the water component of air?

    There is also a certain amount of air in water, and we don't remove that to drink water. It seems inevitable that there is cross over through the branches but, legislature and judiciary are two separate independent bodies, and, it seems like it would be a subversion of autonomy, of individuals and other organisationd, if corporations subjugated idealogies and disrupted judicial process?

    A generalised understanding of democracy is, that for a functioning democracy, ideally five independent pillars: three independent official branches of government; executive, legislature and the judicary; and, an unofficial fourth branch otherwise known as the press or media; and the fifth branch of democracy comprising public understanding of the functions of those branches and interactions and input, participation, like voting.

    Possibly, an issue could be, if corporations are making social decisions, and business with them dependant on adopting those social decisions, then, it seems to me that that could bypass any leadership direction of a country, of legislation, of process? It could then seem like a system is broken, when it is those in and around a system that don't let it function as it might? To then try and 'fix' a supposed broken system, would be to treat a symptom, or even a sign, but, and, would not deal with a cause?

  15. Fascinating how he's told ALL of these stories in numerous previous lectures and interviews, yet this is the first time I've seen them all in one place and they've been woven together into one argument.

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