Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer talks foreign affairs at U.Va. Law School

Event centered on the Supreme Court’s role in a globalized world, importance of international law


Justice Stephen Breyer answered questions from the crowd on the Supreme Court’s pivotal role in the American political system.

Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer spoke about international events and their relationship to the American legal system in a talk at the University Law School Thursday. 

Breyer was appointed as an associate justice to the Supreme Court under the Clinton Administration in 1994 and has served in that position for almost 24 years. He received his law degree from Harvard University and was formerly a law professor there. 

In addition to sharing some anecdotes from his personal life, Breyer spent most of the talk discussing his own views on American law and addressed how it is impacted by international laws and events.

“You can’t decide these cases today without knowing something about terrorism,” Breyer said. “I don’t even decide them decisively without knowing, say, what it’s looking at, how other countries that are democracies that have similar problems deal with this kind of thing. We have to know something.” 

Breyer also stressed the critical role the U.S plays on the world stage and the importance of cooperating with other countries on issues of shared interest, including the environment, health, safety, business and immigration. 

“I want you to think … that if we do not stay in a cooperative relationship with these other countries working on these problems, the world will go on without us and there is something with this and we’ll have to live with it,” Breyer said.

Following his speech, Breyer also took time to answer questions from the audience. Most centered around the Court’s pivotal role in the American political system. One student asked whether or not Bryer sees a role for the Court in helping to bring an end to partisan divisions in Congress and elsewhere. 

“No, we can’t,” Breyer said. “The best thing that we can do is do our jobs, and don’t try to worry about whether this is going to be politically beneficial or not beneficial.”

Several students had positive reactions to the event.

“I think this is an incredible opportunity to see a Supreme Court justice live,” Law student Victoria Granda said prior to the event. “As law students, we’re poring over their opinions and it’s good to see the person live, rather than just reading their writings.” 

Fellow Law student Nicholas Poe agreed. 

“How many opportunities do you get to see a Supreme Court justice?” Poe said. “I’m hoping his message has some bearing on my future career as a lawyer. They’re coming to us for a reason and it’s helpful to us as law students to take something away from it.” 

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