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Bar Association to Honor Justice Breyer

June 28, 2022 by Dan McCue
Bar Association to Honor Justice Breyer
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer speaks during an event at the Library of Congress. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool, File)

CHICAGO — Justice Stephen Breyer, on the verge of retirement after 28 years on the Supreme Court, is being awarded the ABA Medal, the highest honor conferred by the American Bar Association.

Breyer, who for many years has served as the anchor of the so-called liberal wing of the court, will accept the award at the ABA’s annual meeting in Chicago on Saturday, Aug. 6.

His retirement, announced in January, becomes effective as soon as the court releases its final opinions of the current term. 

The outcome of a mere handful of cases remain to be decided, and the court’s final scheduled day for releasing opinions is Wednesday, June 29.

In a press release announcing the award, the ABA described Breyer as having had an “extraordinary career as a public servant,” and went on to describe him as “a defender of the rule of law, a promoter of judicial independence and a friend to the ABA.”

The association notes that in his time on the court, Breyer has written more than 525 opinions, and “demonstrated a commitment over the decades to trying to make our democracy work in fair and practical ways.”

“We could not find a more deserving recipient of our Association’s highest honor, the ABA Medal,” said ABA President Reginald Turner in a written statement. 

“Justice Breyer is a giant in the legal world who has dedicated nearly 50 years of his career to public service. His support of the ABA, coupled with his commitment to the rule of law and his profound contributions to making our democracy function fairly, is truly inspiring,” Turner said.

A graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School, Breyer clerked for Justice Arthur Goldberg in the mid-1960s, and then went on to a distinguished career as a law professor and lecturer at Harvard Law School, which lasted from 1967 to 1980.

In noting Breyer’s work as a professor at Harvard Law School, the ABA said, “he has been credited by many scholars with transforming the field of administrative law to make it more pragmatic, by taking into account the reasoning and expertise of federal agencies, the substance of rules and regulations and the likely impact on people.” 

Prior to being nominated to the Supreme Court, Breyer held a number of prominent positions, including special assistant to the United States assistant attorney general for Antitrust and an assistant special prosecutor on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force in 1973. 

Later, Breyer served on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal (from 1980 to 1994), eventually being nominated to replace retiring justice Harry Blackmun on the Supreme Court by former President Bill Clinton.

“I am greatly honored to receive the ABA Medal,” Breyer said in a statement. “To me, the medal represents the American Bar Association. The ABA represents the bar. The bar represents the legal profession. And the legal profession represents the rule of law throughout the United States and the rest of the world.”

Breyer has been a member of the ABA since 1988, and his long involvement with the group includes ABA conferences, annual meetings and special events on numerous occasions which he saw as forums for the important exchange of legal ideas. 

Once Breyer is formally retired, he will be replaced by new Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. 

Previously Supreme Court recipients of the ABA Medal include Chief Justices Warren E. Burger and Charles Evans Hughes, and Associate Justices Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Sandra Day O’Connor, Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan, Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Tom Clark and Felix Frankfurter.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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