Justice Breyer Comes to Yale

September 30, 2013

M.C., 1L

Every fall, YLS hosts a Global Constitutionalism Week, during which judges serving on the highest courts from all over the world come to the Law School to engage in conversations both with each other and with Law School faculty and students. I was lucky enough to attend three panel discussions that included judges from the supreme courts of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the European Court of Human Rights, among others. And the United States had its representative, too: this year, Justice Stephen Breyer.

Justice Breyer was part of a very well-attended panel on the Challenges of Comparative Constitutionalism (along with judges from the highest courts of Colombia, Germany, and the UK), but he was also part of a private, unadvertised session that took place later that day: a question-and-answer hour with Professor Paul Gewirtz’s Constitutional Law class, the luckiest 1Ls at Yale Law School. To our thrilled surprise, Justice Breyer agreed to give us more than an hour of his time to have an off-the-record question-and-answer session.

He answered a great range of questions, including how the Supreme Court decides what cases to take, what responsibilities a law clerk actually has, the informal rules the Justices have in place to ensure everyone gets along in a cooperative and respectful way, and what it is like to be a new Justice on your first day on the job. He also told us stories about some of his most memorable cases (no surprise that Bush v. Gore made its way onto this list).

It was an incredibly special hour for our entire class. None of us ever imagined we would be able to have such an intimate and free-ranging discussion session with a Supreme Court Justice in just our third week of class! Honestly, Professor Gewirtz could have just met with Justice Breyer privately in his office if he had wanted, but as many other professors at Yale do, he truly went out of his way to give us a unique and extremely precious experience that I am sure none of us will ever forget.