Image - Stephen Breyer
Past Event

Justice Stephen Breyer: Reading the Constitution

What is a textualist, and why does that judicial philosophy dominate the current U.S. Supreme Court?

Join us for a special online event as recently retired Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer gives us his provocative analysis that deconstructs the textualist philosophy of the current Supreme Court’s supermajority and makes his case for a better way to interpret the Constitution. Textualists claim that the right way to interpret the Constitution and statutes is to read the text carefully and examine the language as it was understood at the time the documents were written.

This, however, is not Justice Breyer’s philosophy, nor has it been the traditional way to interpret the Constitution since the time of Chief Justice John Marshall. Justice Breyer recalls Marshall’s exhortation that the Constitution must be a workable set of principles to be interpreted by subsequent generations. Most important in interpreting law, says Breyer, is to understand the purposes of statutes as well as the consequences of deciding a case one way or another. He illustrates these principles by examining some of the most important cases in the nation’s history, among them the Dobbs and Bruen decisions from 2022 that he argues were wrongly decided and have led to harmful results for our country.


Breyer photo by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

April 3, 2024

Commonwealth Club World Affairs of California
United States

Image - Stephen Breyer

Hon. Stephen Breyer

Former Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court; Author, Reading the Constitution: Why I Chose Pragmatism, Not Textualism

Image - Tani Cantil-Sakauye

In Conversation with Tani Cantil-Sakauye

President and CEO, Public Policy Institute of California, and Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California