Aug 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Stephen Breyer says America goes the wrong way "from time to time"

Stephen Breyer

Stephen Breyer speaks during an event at the Library of Congress on Feb. 17. Photo: Evan Vucci-Pool/Getty Images

Former Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on Saturday made his first public appearance since his retirement, speaking to the American Bar Association Conference in Chicago about his views of the future and the work judges do.

The big picture: Breyer officially retired from the high court at the end of June, where he was replaced by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. It was announced last month that Breyer will be returning to Harvard, where he attended law school and previously taught, to teach as a professor of administrative law and process at the law school.

State of play: Breyer made no mention of the string of conservative rulings the Supreme Court issued at the end of its last term, including overturning Roe v. Wade, during his appearance, CNN reported.

  • Breyer spoke about the rule of law in the U.S., noting that "America's a system that has adjusted — with its drawbacks and its going-the-wrong way from time to time ... overall, I'm still an optimist," Breyer said, per CNN.
  • "This has not been a country of sheer ups you know," Breyer recalled once telling a judge from another country.
  • "There was a civil war, there was slavery, 80 years of Jim Crow segregation," he added. "But gradually we try ... if this generation doesn't, the next one might."

Breyer also spoke of the important role that lawyers, as well as the American Bar Association, plays in the work of judges.

  • Judges "need the help from the outside" even if they don't always think they do, Breyer said, CNN reported.
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