Stephen Breyer on Staying Above Politics

Justice Breyer likes to quote Thomas Jefferson's complaint about the Supreme Court: Its appointees never retire, and they very rarely die. And yet, as Breyer admits in this video clip, judges are human beings, influenced by their own views and life experiences. Is it naive, then, to give them lifetime appointments and assume they won't be swayed by politics?

The Ideas ReportBreyer insists that it isn't. In arguing his case, he points out that Supreme Court justices are supposed to disagree. The goal is not to have nine oracles, all voicing the same infallible opinion, but nine individuals who bring their own viewpoints to the bench. Over time, presidents may try to shift the balance, but Breyer warns that these commanders-in-chief end up being sorely disappointed. The best judges may be human, but Breyer believes they do manage to stay above politics. And once they're on the bench, they're not going anywhere for quite a while. 

More video from the 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival

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Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she edits digital features.

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