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Stephen Breyer

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Near fine copy of Justice Breyer’s book Active Liberty

Stephen Gerald Breyer, 1938–. Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, 1994–.  Breyer’s book, Active Liberty: Interpreting our Democratic Constitution, boldly signed Stephen Breyer on the title page. 

This book is the distillation of lectures in which Justice Breyer defined his view of constitutional interpretation.  “Regarding the Constitution as a guide for the application of basic American principles to a living and changing society rather than as an arsenal of rigid legal means for binding and restricting it,” the synopsis inside the dust cover explains, “Justice Breyer argues that the genius of the Constitution rests not in any static meaning it might have had in a world that is dead and gone, but in the adaptability of its great principles to cope with current problems.”  The thoughts began as Breyer’s 2001 James Madison Lecture at New York University Law School, which formed the basis for the Tanner Lectures on Human Values that Breyer presented at Harvard University in 2004.  The Tanner Lectures became this book.

Breyer’s developmentalist view stands in stark contrast to that of textualists such as the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who insisted that the Supreme Court is bound by the text of the Constitution, as informed by the original intent of those who adopted it.  In 2008, Breyer and Scalia debated their views before an audience of high school students for an educational video project of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.  Breyer explained that while he looks to the text of the Constitution and the pertinent history, traditions, and precedential decisions, those four factors “don’t really give you the answer all that much,” so he looks “quite a lot” to the purpose or value of the constitutional provision involved and the consequences of the decision.  He acknowledged that “the danger of my approach . . . is that I would substitute my view of what’s good for what the Constitution is about.  So I have to take care not to do that.”  The “danger the other way,” he said, “is, in my view, we separate the law and the Constitution from life.”

President Bill Clinton appointed Breyer to the United States Supreme Court in 1994.  Breyer served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg in 1964 before becoming a professor at Harvard Law School.  He served as an Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust and as an assistant special prosecutor on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force.  In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, where he became Chief Judge in 1990.  He held that position until his appointment to the Supreme Court.

Justice Breyer has signed this hardback book in black on the title page.  The book has a few minor spots on the cover that one must remove the dust cover to see, and the dust cover is wrapped in plastic for protection.  The book itself is clean, and the binding is tight.  It is in near fine condition.


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