Law & Courts

Court Nominee Breyer Called ‘Consensus Builder’

By Mark Walsh — May 25, 1994 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

President Clinton last week called his choice for the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Stephen G. Breyer, a gifted “consensus builder” who will serve in the tradition that led to the unanimous 1954 desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

The President nominated Judge Breyer, who is the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, on May 13 to replace retiring Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun.

Citing the unanimity of the Brown decision, Mr. Clinton predicted at a May 16 ceremony that Judge Breyer “will be a Justice who seeks to insure that the Court speaks in a clear voice, as unified a voice as it is possible to speak in furthering the goals of liberty and equality under the law.”

Judge Breyer, 55, spoke during the ceremony of the influence of his teachers at Lowell High School in San Francisco; of his father, a career administrator of that city’s school district; and of his mother, “who taught us by example that the education of her children meant so very much more than material comforts.”

In a speech earlier this year to the Massachusetts Commission on the Common Core of Learning, Judge Breyer discussed the importance of teaching civics, American history, and the basics of the legal system to high school students.

“As an appellate judge, I set for myself a goal of trying to write my opinions so that a high school student, if willing to take a little time, would understand that, in the circumstances, the law as revealed in that opinion makes sense,” he said.

Leeway for Administrators

As a member of the First Circuit Court since 1980, Judge Breyer has ruled on relatively few education cases. But he appears to have strong views about giving school officials the leeway to do their jobs.

For example, in a dissent to a 1992 decision in favor of a learning-disabled Tufts University medical-school student who sought an alternative to multiple-choice tests, Judge Breyer sided with the university because its expert said such tests were necessary.

The judge wrote that he opposed taking “a basic educational decision away from those who may know the most about it” and placing it in the hands of lawyers.

In a 1982 case, Judge Breyer wrote an opinion upholding a New Hampshire district’s decision to suspend bus service for all students on one route for a five-day period when unruly students got out of hand. Parents sued, saying their children were being deprived of a benefit without due process of law.

“We have serious doubts about whether the pupils or their parents have asserted a property interest sufficiently weighty for the due-process clause to apply,” Judge Breyer wrote. “The maximum harm is the inconvenience ... of a car pool, a long walk, or some other private transportation arrangement for five days.”

Judge Breyer has written two significant rulings in school cases involving the First Amendment’s clauses on establishment of religion and free exercise of religion.

Rulings on Religious Issues

In a 1989 case from Massachusetts, Judge Breyer rejected a Christian academy’s contention that it should not have to be approved by the local school board. The school suggested that it voluntarily submit student test scores as an alternative to inspection by local officials.

“It is difficult to see how a purely voluntary system for monitoring nonpublic education can serve the state’s interest in assuring educational quality,” he wrote.

In a 1983 case from Rhode Island, Judge Breyer backed efforts of the state to develop a plan to provide bus transportation to religious-school students, even if it meant spending more to transport them beyond the lines of the public school district in which they resided.

“The First Amendment, after all, is impartial,” the judge wrote. “It plays no favorites between public and parochial school students, and that impartiality implies that it not penalize parochial school students on the basis of public school district lines.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 25, 1994 edition of Education Week as Court Nominee Breyer Called ‘Consensus Builder’

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
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
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
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.

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

Law & Courts Title IX Rule to Protect LGBTQ+ Students Temporarily Blocked in 4 States
A federal judge in Louisiana delivered the first legal blow to the Biden administration's interpretation of Title IX.
4 min read
Demonstrators advocating for transgender rights and healthcare stand outside of the Ohio Statehouse on Jan. 24, 2024, in Columbus, Ohio. Republican states are filing a barrage of legal challenges against the Biden administration's newly expanded campus sexual assault rules, saying they overstep the president's authority and undermine the Title IX anti-discrimination law.
Demonstrators advocating for transgender rights and health care stand outside of the Ohio Statehouse on Jan. 24, 2024, in Columbus, Ohio. Republican states have filed a barrage of legal challenges against the Biden administration's new Title IX rule, and one of them has just resulted in a temporary order blocking the rule in four states.
Patrick Orsagos/AP
Law & Courts Judge Strikes Down Title IX Guidance on LGBTQ+ Students. Here's Why It Matters
In a June 11 ruling, Texas judge said the Education Department has no authority to expand protections under Title IX.
8 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Dallas on June 22, 2017.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Dallas on June 22, 2017. His office sued the Biden administration in an attempt to invalidate guidance it released in June 2021 stating it would interpret Title IX to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Tony Gutierrez/AP
Law & Courts Court Backs School That Barred Student's 'Two Genders' Shirt
The court said the shirt could be understood to demean transgender and gender-nonconforming students, and administrators could prohibit it.
5 min read
ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman, left, and Liam Morrison speak at a press conference following oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit on Feb. 8, 2024.
David Cortman, senior counsel and vice president of Alliance Defending Freedom, left, and middle school student Liam Morrison speak to reporters following oral arguments over Morrison's "There Are Only Two Genders" T-shirt before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston on Feb. 8, 2024.
Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom
Law & Courts Federal Judge Overturns New Hampshire Law on Teaching 'Divisive Concepts'
The judge holds that the law is unconstitutionally vague because it does not make clear to educators what topics they may not teach.
4 min read
Students walk into the front doors at Hinsdale Middle High School, in Hinsdale, N.H., on the first day of school on Aug. 30, 2022.
Students walk into Hinsdale Middle High School, in Hinsdale, N.H., in August 2022. A federal judge has struck down a New Hampshire law that bars the teaching of "divisive concepts" to K-12 students.
Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP