Skip to main content
Edit Page Control Panel

Justice Breyer's Legacy & Opinions Every Trial Lawyer Should Know

Justice Breyer's Legacy & Opinions Every Trial Lawyer Should Know

The post below was provided to Juris Medicus from Caroline Newman Small, Managing Partner at Davis & Santos, P.C. To learn more about Caroline

Justice Breyer’s Legacy

After serving for almost 28 years on the United States Supreme Court, Justice Stephen G. Breyer will step down from the high court later this year. Justice Breyer will be remembered fondly for his fanciful hypotheticals and marathon questioning during oral arguments. However, who is Justice Breyer and how has he shaped the practice of law during his long tenure on the high court?

Justice Breyer has authored hundreds of opinions as an associate justice on the Court, on diverse topics such as arbitration, political gerrymandering, and the death penalty. During oral arguments, the former Harvard professor favors thoughtful—albeit lengthy questions—known to stymie even the most seasoned lawyers. Although sometimes labeled a “centrist liberal,” an examination of Justice Breyer’s tenure shows that he defies such easy categorization.

Breyer’s brand of jurisprudence is far more complex. He has shown an enduring willingness to fully examine the issues before the high court and to listen to his colleagues, even those who hail from the opposite side of the political spectrum. Known to “butt heads” with Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Breyer said of his late colleague: “We used to have debates, and, you know, I came around to seeing a lot more from his point of view than I would have thought.”

Opinions Every Trial Lawyer Should Know

Breyer authored the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Kuhmo Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999), holding that the trial court’s general “gatekeeping” obligation applies not only to expert testimony based on “scientific” knowledge, but also to expert testimony based on “technical” or “other specialized” knowledge. The opinion prompted revisions to Federal Rule of Evidence 702.

Breyer also authored the high court’s decision in Philip Morris USA v. Williams, 549 U.S. 346 (2007). There, the issue was whether the federal constitution’s Due Process Clause permits a jury to base a punitive damage award upon its desire to punish the defendant for harming persons who are not before the court. In penning the Court’s opinion, Breyer concluded that such an award was impermissible because it amounted to the “taking” of property from the defendant without due process. In Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231 (2005), Breyer authored an influential concurring opinion. The issue before the court was whether the prosecution in a capital murder trial had improperly exercised preremptory strikes to eliminate jurors based on their race. The majority concluded that the prosecution’s explanations for striking minority jurors were not racially-neutral as required by existing law. In his concurring opinion, Justice Breyer went a step further, arguing for the elimination of preremptory strikes altogether. Justice Breyer contended that racial discrimination in selecting jurors jeopardizes the integrity of the courts and undermines public confidence.

Free CLE Webinar

For more details about the legacy of Justice Breyer and opinions every trial lawyer should know, please register to attend the free CLE webinar on April 20, 2022, sponsored by Juris Medicus, LLC, Lexitas & Aperature and presented by Caroline Newman Small (CLE accreditation pending for Texas, Florida, and South Carolina).


Let’s Stay Connected

Trust IMS | JM to efficiently handle your medical expert needs for personal injury cases, insurance claims, and similar matters. With more than a decade of experience, we stand as a beacon of reliability and proficiency in the field. Contact our team to get started.

* indicates required