Stephen Breyer

Breyer retires

Credit: Martha Stewart

Stephen Breyer ’64 announced on Jan. 27 that he will step down after more than a quarter century on the Supreme Court. Harvard Law Today offers a look back at his career and his legacy, and his lifelong connection to Harvard Law School, with reflections from professors, colleagues, and former clerks and students on the long-serving Justice’s profound belief in democracy and the rule of law, and his influence on the Court and beyond.

Pragmatic Justice

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer Announces His Retirement At The White House

Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images President Joe Biden looks on as Justice Stephen Breyer holds up a pocket Constitution and speaks about his coming retirement from the Supreme Court.

At a press conference in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, President Joe Biden thanked Justice Breyer for his long history of public service, calling his opinions “practical, sensible, and nuanced, reflect[ing] his belief that the job of a judge is not to lay down a rule, but to get it right.”

In his remarks, Breyer reminded his audience that America is a complicated and diverse country of 300 million people representing “every point of view possible.” Yet miraculously, he said, “They’ve decided to help solve their major differences under law.”

Our nation is “an experiment,” he added, one that all of us are tasked with continuing. Read more

On the Court, Breyer had a ‘deeply thoughtful, learned, humane, and pragmatic approach’

Stephen Breyer at Ames Moot Court Competition in 2008

Credit: Phil Farnsworth Stephen Breyer returned to HLS several times throughout his tenure with the Court, including six times to sit on the bench for the Ames Moot Court Competition (shown here in 2008). Breyer most recently presided over the 2021 Ames Competition.

In the wake of the news that Justice Breyer will retire at the end of the current term, Harvard Law School faculty members — one of whom knew Breyer as a young law student — offered their thoughts on his tenure, legacy, and how the nation’s highest court could change after his departure. Read more

Justice Stephen Breyer — A Passionate Pragmatist

Stephen Breyer

Credit: Martha Stewart

With the announcement of Breyer’s retirement has come an outpouring of testaments to his transformative presence on the Court. Richard Lazarus ’79, the Howard and Katherine Aibel Professor of Law, who has represented the United States, state and local governments, and environmental groups in the United States Supreme Court in 40 cases and has presented oral argument in 14 of those cases, reflects on Justice Breyer’s “striking pragmatism” — and passion — during his judicial tenure. Read more

Faculty weigh in on Breyer’s departure and the way forward

Courtroom interior at the United States Supreme Court

Credit: iStock/peterspiro

In the hours and days since Breyer’s announcement, Harvard Law School faculty have shared observations on his legacy and weighed in about the process of appointing and confirming his successor. Read more