Jan 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court justices honor Breyer after retirement announcement

Picture of all nine Supreme Court justices
Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

After Justice Stephen Breyer formally announced he was retiring from the Supreme Court, his colleagues on the bench released statements honoring his service in the judiciary.

The big picture: Despite the existing ideological differences between some of them, the justices commended Breyer, referring to him as a great jurist and a friend.

Here's what each of the justices said:

Chief Justice John Roberts
  • "Justice Stephen G. Breyer is an energetic jurist and dear friend," Roberts said. "His pragmatism, encyclopedic knowledge, and varied government experience have enriched the Court’s deliberations. And his fanciful hypotheticals during oral argument have befuddled counsel and colleagues alike."
  • "Justice Breyer’s optimism and profound love of country, expressed through word and deed, have inspired countless others. He is a tireless and powerful advocate for the rule of law."
  • "He is also a reliable antidote to dead airtime at our lunches, moving seamlessly from modern architecture to French cinema, to old radio shows, to a surprisingly comprehensive collection of riddles and knock-knock jokes."
Justice Clarence Thomas
  • "When Justice Breyer arrived at the Court almost thirty years ago, we gained a wonderful colleague," Thomas said. "It has been an absolute joy to have spent these years with [Breyer and his wife, Joanna], from sitting next to each other on the bench for over twenty-five years to visiting with them in New England."
  • "Though Justice Breyer’s tenure on the Court draws to a close, our friendship and deep affection redoubles and endures. We extend our fondest wishes to them in the next phase of their lives, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts for being such delightful and dear friends whom we love."
Justice Samuel Alito
  • "I will greatly miss Steve when he leaves the Court. He has been a delightful colleague — brilliant, erudite, friendly, good-natured, and funny," Alito said.
  • "I will miss his unique questions at argument, his valuable contributions at conference, his insightful opinions, his amusing observations at lunch, and our many fascinating conversations on a wide range of subjects."
  • "His retirement is a great loss for us, and I wish Steve and Joanna much happiness and satisfaction in the next chapter of their lives."
Justice Sonia Sotomayor
  • "My dear friend, Steve Breyer, is leaving the Court after 42 distinguished years of service to the judiciary and to the country. I will miss him," Sotomayor said.
  • "He is brilliant, passionate about the law, and dedicated to the Court. He is funny, optimistic, and giving. We all will miss his commitment to seeking consensus and ensuring collegiality in all we do. He has served the country with honor."
Justice Elena Kagan
  • "I’ll miss Steve Breyer every day after he has left the Court. He is a brilliant and wise judge whose vision of law will remain of great importance. He is the best possible colleague," Kagan said.
  • "He believes in making institutions work; to strengthen this one, he listens to other views with care and generosity, and does everything he can to find common ground."
  • "And he is the best possible friend. He is kind and warm and funny. He has boundless optimism and a great heart. I can hardly imagine the Court without him."
Justice Neil Gorsuch
  • Breyer's "deep knowledge of our law, its history, and our government is profound. His good humor is legendary. I will very much miss his wisdom — and his wit — at our conference table," Gorsuch said.
  • "He and Joanna have been fast friends to Louise and me and we hope to see them often as friends for many years to come."
Justice Brett Kavanaugh
  • "I will deeply and daily miss Justice Breyer. He has made the Court and America better. He has been an inspiring presence in the courtroom and conference room, at the lunch table and in chambers," Kavanaugh said.
  • "Steve Breyer is a scholar and gentleman, an independent judge and fierce patriot, a man of great wisdom and humor, a collegial consensus-builder and unfailing optimist."
  • Kavanaugh said he and his wife "wish [Breyer and Joanna] all the best as they start a new chapter in their remarkable journey together."
Justice Amy Coney Barrett
  • "I admire Steve Breyer for many reasons, not least of which is his judicial temperament. Steve feels passionately about the law, as his many writings reflect. Yet his passion never manifests itself in anger," Barrett said.
  • "He is a model of civility. And in my time on the Court, he has also become my valued colleague and friend. I am grateful for his warm welcome, sage counsel, and sense of humor."
Retired Justice Anthony Kennedy
  • "When we talked about the law, as we often did, his insights were fascinating because they so often were in new dimensions. He was a splendid colleague," Kennedy said.
Retired Justice David Souter
  • "Steve Breyer has been a superlative justice, whose work has shown his high intelligence and sound common sense. His friendship has enhanced my life," Souter said.
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