Breyer, Stephen G. (1938–)

Author:Roger K. Newman

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Stephen G. Breyer came to the Supreme Court in 1994 with a well-developed judicial philosophy. It was not a completely formed constitutional philosophy, for his career had largely been spent outside the constitutional field.

Born in San Francisco in 1938, Breyer was graduated from Stanford University in 1959 and spent two years as a Marshall scholar at Oxford University. He was graduated from Harvard Law School in 1964, after which he clerked for Justice ARTHUR J. GOLDBERG and spent two years in the ANTITRUST division of the U.S. Department of Justice. From 1967 to 1980 he taught at Harvard Law School, specializing in antitrust and administrative law. Breyer also served as a prosecutor on the WATERGATE special prosecution in 1973 and, in 1974, as special counsel to the U.S. SENATE subcommittee on administrative practice and procedures, chaired by Senator Edward M. Kennedy. As chief counsel to the SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE in 1979 he crafted the LEGISLATION that led to the deregulation of the airline industry.

In 1980 Breyer was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit; he became its chief judge in 1990. Sitting on the federal judicial moon, he necessarily reflected the sun of Supreme Court PRECEDENT. Breyer deferred to ADMINISTRATIVE AGENCY decisions and tended to interpret statutory provisions narrowly. He was one of the original members of the United States Sentencing Commission that in 1987 promulgated controversial federal SENTENCING guidelines. Breyer conceived the idea of a numerical framework that all federal judges would have to apply.

In 1994 President WILLIAM J. CLINTON nominated Breyer to replace the retiring Justice HARRY A. BLACKMUN. The Senate easily confirmed him, and on August 11, 1994, Breyer took his seat as the nation's 108th Supreme Court Justice. He joined a Court that generally supported both FREEDOM OF SPEECH claims and STATES ' RIGHTS. It was more skeptical of federal authority than any Court in recent history. At the same time it believed more in neutrality than in equality, particularly in RACIAL DISCRIMINATION and AFFIRMATIVE ACTION cases.

He dissented from the Court's opinion in UNITED STATES V. LÓPEZ (1995), invalidating the Gun-Free School Zone

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Act of 1990 on the ground that Congress failed to show that the possession of a gun in school "substantially affects" INTERSTATE COMMERCE. Breyer agreed that Congress must have evidence that "gunrelated violence near the...

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