An Independent Judiciary

Stephen Gerald Breyer is an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Appointed in 1994, Breyer is often regarded as more liberal than most other members of the court. He is highly regarded across the political spectrum for his pragmatic, rather than ideological, approach to the Constitution. In Bush v. Gore, which settled the controversial 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, he issued a widely respected dissent which criticized those who would decide the case on the basis of equal protection. Breyer, a Rhodes Scholar, was educated at Stanford, Oxford and Harvard. He is the author of Breaking the Vicious Circle: Toward Effective Risk Regulation. Ideas recorded at the 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival on: 7/5/07

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Well what I talk about is what I’ve been talking about, is it is important for people at all levels to understand the need for a rule of law and independent judiciary. And I think that that is fairly well understood; but where you try to get the understanding is at the high school level. That’s what I mostly think we can do. In respect to separation of powers as legal matters, they come up before us as cases. Now we’ve had Guantanamo, for example, three times. Most recent, we were going to hear another case. Don’t take anything I say as commenting on that case. We haven’t heard it yet. But the third case involved probably the least popular . . . or one of the least popular people in the United States . . . Bin Laden’s chauffer. And he was on one side against the most powerful person possibly in the world, the United . . . the President of the United States. And he was claiming that he couldn’t be tried by a military tribunal. And he came before our court, and he won and the President lost. So it’s a mistake to say that there isn’t an independent judiciary in America. In those cases, we decide the issues as we see them case by case. And so the general thing, “Is the President too powerful? Is the Congress too powerful? Are the courts too powerful?” In general terms, it’s a matter for the political scientists and the government professors to work out, and the newspapers to editorialize, and the people to think about; but it isn’t something that I necessarily . . . that I take into account when I’m doing my job. I’m trying to decide particular cases. Recorded on: 7/5/07


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