Education

One School’s Special Guest Speaker ‘on the Zoom': Supreme Court Justice Breyer

By Mark Walsh — April 13, 2020 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Students at a New York City private school had a special guest early this month as coronavirus concerns forced them to converge on Zoom: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer.

Breyer spent a good 70 minutes on April 1 addressing the United Nations International School in New York City, telling students, faculty members and others in the school’s community about routine practices at the court and a bit about how he and his colleagues are coping with the pandemic.

The 81-year-old justice explained that he and several family members are staying at their home in Cambridge, Mass., which Breyer has owned since his years as a Harvard Law School professor and a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, in Boston.

“I’m with my daughter, and my wife, and some of the grandchildren, who are at school, just as you are, on the Zoom,” said Breyer, in reference to the now-ubiquitous web conferencing platform.

Breyer acknowledged that some of his grandchildren attend the school, which enrolls 160 students from 109 countries at its campuses in Manhattan and Queens. The justice noted that he had visited the school before to speak and deliver a lesson about how the court operates.

“There we are. This has happened,” Breyer said about the circumstances of working from home. He seemed comfortable with his Zoom feed, which included a background of a photo of the front of the Supreme Court building, which made him appear to hover like a giant over his usual workplace.

“What a privilege it is for UNIS to have this opportunity to speak with” the justice, Dan Brenner, the executive director of the school, said during the Zoom session, which the school posted on Vimeo.

Brenner introduced four students to moderate questions submitted during the Zoom session. They were Alec Bresler, of New York; Won-Jae Cheng, of South Korea; Eren Levine, who identified herself as being from New York and Turkey; and Alexandra Zandamela, of Mozambique. All are members of the class of 2020.

Breyer spoke in some detail about the work of the court in determining which cases to accept for argument and then to decide the cases argued. The court’s March and April argument sessions have been postponed indefinitely, though the court has continued to release opinions, on the web, of cases argued earlier in the term that began in October.

“When my son was your age he said, ‘What is it that you do?’” Breyer said. “I said I read the briefs, and I write the opinions. So, you see, if you do your homework very well, you can get a job where you’ll do homework the whole rest of your life.”

Breyer received questions about a few hot topics. Asked about recent proposals to increase the size of the court or impose term-limits on the tenure of the justices, Breyer discussed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1930s “court-packing” plan to increase the number of justices after the court had struck down several New Deal programs.

“The country wouldn’t pass that, because they were afraid if he could do it, somebody else could do it,” Breyer said. “It’s called, in the Congress, where I did work for some of my career, ... what comes around goes around.”

Breyer, a longtime francophile who was inducted in 2013 into France’s Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, had a book recommendation for his student Zoom audience: The Plague, the 1947 novel by French author Albert Camus about an epidemic that ravages the French Algerian city of Oran, which has been getting renewed attention during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Some people think it’s a kind of allegory or analogy to the Nazis taking over France,” Breyer said. “But you don’t have to read it that way. You see how the people behave.”

He added: “Some behaved well. Some did not. We’re right there right now.”

Breyer was asked whether he expected the court to face any legal questions arising out of the pandemic, such as about the legality of stay-at-home orders.

“Will it come up in the form of a case to the court? I don’t know,” Breyer said. “The problem now is not really law, the problem now is really this disease, which is absolutely terrible. We’ll get over it. We’ll get over it.”

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Education More Than 120,000 U.S. Kids Had Caregivers Die During Pandemic
The toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests.
3 min read
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 file photo, a funeral director arranges flowers on a casket before a service in Tampa, Fla. According to a study published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, by the medical journal Pediatrics, the number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be larger than previously estimated, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)