Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced his plans to retire.

Breyer was appointed in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. Throughout his time on the bench, Breyer developed a reputation for being a pragmatic and optimistic justice. Lawmakers from both parties characterized him as a justice willing to listen, cooperate and render judgment based upon facts and his understanding of the U.S. Constitution.

While rejecting the legal philosophy of originalism (the belief that the constitutional text ought to be given the original public meaning that it would have had at the time that it became law), Breyer held to a living constitutional philosophy (the belief in seeking the framer’s intent and considering the practical consequences when deciding cases).

Characterized as part of the “liberal” wing of the Supreme Court, Breyer often offered opinions protecting the rights of women, upholding the rights to affordable health care, and questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty. Yet, he was no firebrand and readily admitted that the highest court in the county would not solve all of society’s problems.

Breyer believed the larger citizenry bears the greatest responsibility when it comes to self-governance. “I mean those people who are interested in good government will certainly contribute in order to make certain there’s some counter-balance to those whose interests in good government is less,” he explained.

In other words, the country will always be what we are willing to accept; and it can only change when people interested in good government see injustice and decide to step up and speak out.

Additionally, Breyer is one of two justices from the Jewish tradition. In 2014, Breyer and fellow justice Elena Kagan spoke to the Jewish Federations General Assembly. Breyer spoke about the importance of the Jewish understanding of justice, tzedek, as it pertains to the overarching judicial philosophy of the entire court.

Breyer stated, “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. Those are things I think, those are things Elena thinks, those are things we all think.”

Tzedek means righteousness, fairness or justice. With over five decades on the bench and almost three decades on the Supreme Court, Justice Breyer is a shining example of tzedek. Always a steady and calm presence, his legal and pragmatic wisdom will live long after his retirement from the court.

Interfaith Alliance President Rabbi Jack Moline wrote, “Justice Breyer has been an ardent defender of true religious freedom throughout his tenure on the Supreme Court. He has been a sterling example of an objective judicial temperament informed by personal faith values, including equal rights under the law. We wish him well in his retirement.”

With Breyer’s annoucment now public, a seat will need to be filled by President Joe Biden. Biden would be wise to nominate a candidate within the same lines as Justice Breyer and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

With the country so divided and democracy at a tipping point, the United States Supreme Court needs to remain the branch of government providing stability and consistency. The most critical and pressing issues make it before the court, therefore, the country needs justices to rise above the political fray in order to render justice for all citizens.

Justice Stephen Breyer conducted himself with honor and class, fulfilling his responsibilities as a justice. Citizens should be proud that this great-grandson of a Romanian immigrant worked his way to the highest court in the land.

Justice Breyer will leave the Supreme Court with his head high, having served his country with great integrity and remarkable values.

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