WASHINGTON (AP) — Until last week when he swore in Justice Ketanji Brown Jacksonhis Supreme Court successor, Judge Stephen Breyer had a rigorous, intellectually challenging job at the highest stake† Now the 83-year-old retiree has no letter to read and no opinions to write.
As a retired judge, Breyer can maintain an office with the Supreme Court if he wishes and also gets a clerk to assist him. But like other retired judges he can also chart his own path based on his personality and interests. An example: Judge Sandra Day O’Connor, the the court’s first female judgeestablished in retirement a group teaching social studies students through computer games.
Here are some things Breyer could do when he retires:
Just because Breyer is retired doesn’t mean he should stop hearing things. A 1937 law allows retired Supreme Court justices to continue to hear cases and decide lower federal courts, a practice called “sitting by designation.” A number of retired judges continue to serve on federal appeals courts, the level below the Supreme Court, where judges hear cases on panels of three judges.
For example, Judge David Souter has participated in nearly 500 cases as a judge on the Boston Federal Court of Appeals since his 2009 retirement from the Supreme Court. Those who know Breyer say it wouldn’t surprise them if he doesn’t hang up his robes all the way with Souter.
The court Souter sits on, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, is said to have a special draw. Breyer was a judge there for 14 years, including four years as chief justice, before becoming a judge. He was heavily involved in the design of the courthouse itself, which was completed in 1998, and he still has a house in Cambridge next to a house in Washington, D.C.
Breyer also has a role as a different kind of judge. For more than ten years he has been a member of the jury that selected the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize†
Before Breyer’s title was “judge,” it was “professor.” A law graduate of Stanford and Harvard, Breyer joined the faculty of his alma mater Harvard in 1967 and taught there for many years.
As a professor, Breyer was an expert in administrative law, the law surrounding government bodies. Law schools still use a textbook he co-authored. One of his students later became a court colleague. Justice Elena Kagan has called him “my favorite professor”.
It would be easy for Breyer to return to class if he wanted to. Some of the current judges teach law school during the year or during the summer. International locations are particularly popular teaching locations in the summer – a way to get out of Washington. France may be a particularly attractive location for Breyer, who speaks French. The Supreme Court’s press service occasionally distributed copies of: speeches he gave in French†
The author of seven books, Breyer is one of the Supreme Court’s most prolific authors. Breyer’s most recent book, “The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics,” was published in 2021. It was the result of a speech he gave at Harvard on the power of the judiciary and some of the challenges it faces.
Other retired judges have continued to write and speak to groups, as Breyer has often done as a judge. The late Judge John Paul Stevens, who served with Breyer for 16 years, published a memoir a year after he left court and followed it up with a book detailing six changes he felt needed to be made to the Constitution, including clarifying what he said. him a limited Second Amendment right to bear arms. He later called for the repeal of the Second Amendment†
Breyer apparently has no shortage of other interests to keep him occupied. In 2020, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal about how he was doing during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, he mentioned daily 2-mile runs, meditation, reading non-fiction and French mysteries, and family movie nights with his wife, one of his daughters and three of his six grandchildren, who lived with him in Cambridge. He also noted that he shared cooking tasks and detailed a recipe for an Italian pot roast.
In a pronunciation after Breyer announced his retirement, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that Breyer was a “reliable antidote to dead airtime” during lunches the judges share. Interesting topics ranged from modern architecture to French cinema, Roberts noted, adding that he also had a “surprisingly extensive collection of riddles and thumping jokes.”