Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Justice Breyer to Open Festival
Arts2017 Book Festival of the Marcus JCC

Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Justice Breyer to Open Festival

Stephen Breyer argues for the Supreme Court to pay more attention to foreign jurisprudence.

Dave Schechter

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Justice Stephen Breyer (photo by Steve Petteway)
Justice Stephen Breyer (photo by Steve Petteway)

Jews compose about 2 percent of America’s population but make up one-third of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, one of three Jews on the nine-member court, will open the 26th edition of the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center on Saturday, Nov. 4.

Breyer will speak at 8:15 p.m. in a conversation with Gail Evans, a best-selling author and former executive vice president of CNN.

The discussion will center on Breyer’s most recent book, “The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities,” which was published two years ago.

Breyer’s view that the U.S. Constitution, which dates to 1789, is a living document, subject to interpretation as the country changes over the years, is opposed by originalists, who hold that the Constitution must be interpreted as the Framers intended it.

The Court and the World
By Stephen Breyer
Knopf, 400 pages, $27.95

In “The Court and the World,” Breyer makes the case that, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the high court’s work will require an understanding of jurisprudence beyond the nation’s borders.

President Bill Clinton’s nomination of Breyer to the high court in 1994 (and his subsequent confirmation by the U.S. Senate) elevated the Harvard Law School-educated jurist from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, where he had served since his 1980 appointment by President Jimmy Carter.

The 79-year-old Breyer is the fourth-longest serving of the current justices.

The other two Jewish justices are Ruth Bader Ginsburg, nominated by Clinton in 1993, and Elana Kagan, nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010. Eight Jews have served on the Supreme Court, the first being Louis D. Brandeis, nominated in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson.

Breyer was raised in a middle-class Jewish family in San Francisco.

His father, Irving Gerald Breyer, was a lawyer and legal counsel for the San Francisco Board of Education, and his mother, Ann Roberts Breyer, was an active volunteer for the Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters.

Breyer became a bar mitzvah at Congregation Emanu-El (Reform) in San Francisco, which was founded in 1850 as a synagogue for those who followed the worship practices of German Jews.

When Emanu-El Rabbi Alvin I. Fine celebrated his 80th birthday in 1996, Breyer sent a letter that read, “How I wish I could be with you on this happy day. You left upon my life an indelible mark.”

Breyer’s academic career took him from Stanford University to graduate studies at Oxford University and then to Harvard, where he edited the Harvard Law Review and graduated with honors.

After law school, Breyer clerked for Justice Arthur Goldberg, another of the eight Jews to have served on the high court.

Breyer has been married since 1967 to Joanna Hare, the daughter of a British lord. They have three children.

They were married in an Anglican ceremony in England, in which references to Jesus Christ were edited out because of Breyer’s Jewish faith.

Speaking in November 2014 to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, meeting in Washington, Breyer said of the Torah’s emphasis on justice (tzedek), “There is a message, and the message has something to do with tzedek, and it has something to do with tzedakah, and it has something to do with social justice, and the law should work out so there is not too much injustice in the way in which it does work out.”

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