It often appears these days that the nation is sharply polarized into partisan camps, and it would only be natural to assume that such political divisions have also split the U.S. Supreme Court in the same way as it has Congress.
That doesn’t seem to be the case, though, according to Justice Stephen Breyer, who spoke recently of his optimism for the nation’s future, how politicians can and should work together better, and how everyone on the high court gets along fine and are friendly with each other in spite of occasional disagreements, as the Associated Press reported.
The 82-year-old jurist’s remarks came Friday during a Zoom discussion with Jeffrey Rosen of the National Constitution Center that covered a variety of topics.
Finding common ground
Asked about the current partisan divide and the future of the nation, Justice Breyer said that he was “basically optimistic, and I don’t know how much that’s justified.”
According to the AP, the justice referenced the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who he used to work for, and how the senator used to say that the country would often swing from one extreme to another but would eventually right itself back somewhere in the middle.
Breyer also pointed out how the Democratic senator would often spend time speaking with Republican colleagues who disagreed with him in search of common ground that could be agreed upon and begin to work from there, rather than remain locked in bitter disputes.
Friendships on the court
SCOTUSblog reported that later in the discussion, Breyer revealed that the same sort of congeniality and willingness to work together was evident among his colleagues on the court, all of whom were “of course” friendly with each other, regardless of ideological or political differences.
He mentioned the weekly conferences when they would discuss cases — where they all unanimously agreed more often than not — and that even when there was a disagreement, “I’ve never heard a voice raised in anger” or engaged in mean-spirited personal attacks.
“Politics is one thing and personal relations is another,” Breyer said, noting that even in Congress — but especially on the court — everyone remained friends, even if it looked like they were in sharp disagreement on a particular issue.
One of those seemingly unlikely close friendships of his own is with Justice Clarence Thomas, who he described as a “very, very decent person,” and added that “people can have different views” and still get along, especially if they “try to understand where they are coming from.”
Justice Breyer’s words about getting along in spite of disagreements are excellent advice that everyone ought to take to heart — especially in the political realm — as is his optimism that America will survive and recover despite the current sharp partisan divisions.