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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 16, 1994
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                         TO THE SUPREME COURT

The Rose Garden

12:49 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. To the distinguished members of the Congress, Attorney General and other members of the Cabinet, the family and friends of Judge Breyer; ladies and gentlemen. Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Brown versus Board of Education, one of the greatest and most important decisions every rendered by a court of law.

We celebrate the Brown decision, and as we do, we are reminded of the central and powerful role the United States Supreme Court plays in our national life and in our society -- addressing profound questions of law and justice, of liberty and equality.

Today we pay tribute to one justice who has served the nation magnificently, and we announce the nomination of another who we hope and expect will also grace the Court with greatness. We celebrate the service of Justice Harry Blackmun, a distinguished member of the Court to which we entrust our legal and constitutional rights. He discharged that trust with fortitude, vision, fairness, and enormous courage and passion.

After a long season of service, at the start of a new season of fulfillment for him and his family, I offer Justice Blackmun our deepest appreciation for his devotion to duty and to the Supreme Court.

Today we also celebrate the nomination of a jurist who I deeply believe will also take his place as one of our nation's outstanding justices. I ask the Senate to consider and to promptly confirm the nomination of Judge Stephen Breyer as the 108th justice of the Supreme Court.

The case for Judge Breyer's confirmation is clear and compelling. His sheer excellence, his broad understanding of the law, his deep respect for the role of the courts in our life and in protecting our individual rights, and his gift as a consensus builder. In addition to his extraordinary intellectual talents, Judge Breyer will bring to the Court an abiding sense of decency and an unswerving dedication to ensuring liberty and justice for all.

Judge Breyer has devoted his entire life to public service -- as a law clerk to Justice Arthur Goldberg, as a young lawyer at the Justice Department, as a teacher opening young minds to the promise and discipline of the law, as a member of the Watergate Special Prosecutors office, as Chief Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and for 14 years, as an exceptional judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit.

He has served in all three branches of government with the heart and head of a reformer, always succeeding at what he has tried to do. His career shows that he understands how government works and how laws are really made -- knowledge that is indispensable for much of the litigation which comes before the Supreme Court.

As Chief Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he won the admiration of senators from both parties for his fairness and commitment to justice, and for his principled advocacy of economic reform.

He also served as a key member of the United States Sentencing Commission. Before the commission was created, there was law but little order when criminal sentences were applied. His decisive behind-the-scenes work enabled the commission to give us less disparate and more truthful sentences, and a more principled system of justice for the victims and the perpetrators of crime.

In 14 years on the Court of Appeals, his influential decisions have protected the civil rights and individual rights of Americans, even at the cost of making powerful people uncomfortable. His insight and clarity have established him as an unquestioned leader of the judiciary. He has spoken loudly for fairness and justice.

What does it mean to the average man and woman who will read tomorrow or see tonight on the news that Stephen Breyer is a consensus builder? We would do well to recall, on this day especially, that the Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education, spoke strongly and clearly in one unanimous voice. That momentous decision was joined by justices who hailed from all regions of our nation, by justices who had been appointed by presidents of both parties, by justices who thought they espoused very different philosophies.

Judge Breyer will bring to the Court a well-recognized and impressive ability to build bridges in pursuit of fairness and justice. In the generations ahead, the Supreme Court will face questions of overriding national importance, many of which we cannot today even imagine.

That is why it is so important to appoint someone whom we can predict will be a justice who seeks to ensure that the Court speaks in a clear voice, as unified a voice as it is possible to speak in furthering the goals of liberty and equality under the law.

We are honored that Judge Breyer could share this day with his family -- his wife, Joanna, a clinical psychologist who relieves the pain of children undergoing cancer treatment; and his children, Chloe, Nell and Michael. We welcome them to the White House as we acclaim Judge Breyer's supreme -- superb qualifications for the Supreme Court.

Ladies and gentlemen, Judge Stephen Breyer. (Applause.)

JUDGE BREYER: Thank you. I'm glad I didn't bring my bicycle down. (Applause.) Thank you very much, Mr. President. I really am very grateful to you, and not only for the honor of this nomination, but also for having honored the judicial branch of government, of which I am a part, by your deep personal involvement in making this choice. The effort that you put into this, Mr. President, testifies to your profound respect for the Constitution that you were sworn to uphold.

I'm also honored to have been in the company of those you considered for this post, especially Secretary Babbitt; and my colleague and very good friend, Judge Richard Arnold, whose talent and integrity have made him the finest of judges.

Today I am conscious of owing so much to so many: Senator Edward Kennedy, who brought me to the Senate Judiciary Committee; and to the senators on that committee -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- who helped me appreciate that although partisanship sometimes matters, there are also shared principles -- shared -- that help maintain this remarkable democracy and make us one people under the rule of law.

I am mindful, too, of mentors, colleagues, friends as long ago as the 1950s -- teachers at Lowell High School in San Francisco; colleagues and friends in college, law school; lawyers at the Department of Justice in the 1960s; my friends in our very collegial appellate court in Massachusetts; fine, dedicated judges and staff of the 1st Circuit -- extend from Maine to Puerto Rico -- all of them, every step of the way, have challenged and inspired me. Each of them is here with me today in spirit, as is, I hope, the late Arthur Goldberg, Justice of the Supreme Court, for whom I clerked and whom I loved dearly.

Today I can't help but recall his firm and fatherly advice not to clutter up my opinions with a lot of footnotes. (Laughter.) Clear writing, he always told me, reflects clear thinking. And it makes legal opinions accessible and understandable, not just to the lawyers but to all the people whom they touch.

And so today I will make this public promise to Justice Goldberg, no footnotes -- or as few as possible. (Laughter.)

But, no, more seriously, right now my thought are really, too, with my family, Joanna, my children, Chloe, Nell, Michael. My brother and his daughter are here, too, and my aunt. My children have given me so much love and laughter and enthusiasm in questions and arguments, too, around the table. And Joanna, the psychologist, as you have said, Mr. President -- but more important to me, really the light of my life; my best friend, here with me now on this remarkable day.

I only wish, too, naturally, there could be sitting here my father, who spent 40 years helping to administer the public school system in San Francisco; and my mother, who taught us by example that the education of her children meant so very much more than material comforts. And, of course, her father who came in 1900 to Ellis Island -- he was a cobbler from Poland. I mean, he wouldn't have believed today.

As I said Friday afternoon, I'm rather awed by what has happened. And since then, I have been given quite a few labels, but I hope no one would mind if I'm particularly proud of one label, that of judge. A judge of whatever court is honored by that name. And so, too, by the name of public servant, for the jobs I've had in the Justice Department, in the Congress, in the courts have convinced me, despite all the current cynicism, that people can work together and government can better the lives of ordinary citizens.

Well, today, too, I'm naturally thinking about the enormous responsibility imposed on a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. President Woodrow Wilson said, "The Constitution of the United States is not a mere lawyer's document, it is a vehicle of life." And what that means to me is that the Constitution and the law must be more than mere words, they must work as a practical reality. And I will certainly try to make law work for people, because that is its defining purpose in a government of the people.

Our laws, Mr. President, have made our country the most free, most secure society in history. Think about it -- where else in the world can people be as certain as they are in America that 100 years from now, they will be able to vote in a free election to choose a president and a representative in Congress? Where else in the world can people be as confident that the administration of justice, while not flawless, will not depend on where their parents were born, what color their skin is, how much money they have?

Those are blessings. And every time, every generation, we have to fight for them again and again. And so if I am confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States, I will devote myself to the best of my ability to ensuring that both the letter and the spirit of our laws continue to serve the people of this country.

In making this pledge, I am mindful of the distinguished legal legacy left by all the recently retiring Supreme Court justices -- Mr. Justice Blackmun, of course; and Justice White, and Justice Brennan. And who, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Brown vs Board of Education, as you said, could forget the legal advocate and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Once again, Mr. President, I am honored and humbled by this nomination. Joanna and I are grateful to you and Mrs. Clinton and for your warmth and hospitality. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Q Mr. President, -- Judge Breyer talked about the selection process. We're wondering why --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, the Constitution -- let me give you a general answer -- the Constitution requires the President to seek not only the consent, but the advice of the United States Senate -- and I did that. And when people made suggestions to me, I discussed it with the folks who work around here. And the more advice you seek, the more leaks you have in here. (Laughter.)

And I might say that at least -- far more than half of those that I've read concerning this appointment have been downright wrong -- absolutely wrong, factually wrong. But nonetheless, if you seek advice, you will have leaks. I decided that I would pay the price of the leaks, even the wrong ones, to follow the duty of the Constitution.

I think that when you do consult broadly and you think about it, and you're personally involved in it, as I tried to be, you tend to make the right decision. I think everybody around here today thinks I made the right decision. I think that's all that really counts. (Applause.)

Q If I could ask the Judge a question. There are many liberal Democrats who have been hoping someone would be named who would serve as a strong counterpoint to Justice Scalia. Do you envisage yourself as someone who can stand up to his more conservative principles and argue the merits of the sort of liberal case effectively and move that Court to a different direction?

JUDGE BREYER: If I'm confirmed, I visage myself as a person who will do the best possible job I'm capable of as a justice of the Supreme Court. (Laughter and applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: I wish I could answer questions like that. (Laughter.) His constitutional privilege is my burden. (Laughter.)

Q (Inaudible.)

JUDGE BREYER: I believe at sometime in the near future, there will be confirmation hearings at which I expect to have lots of questions and difficult ones, too, on matters of substance. And I think that I'll reserve questions and answers of substance for that time.

Q Mr. President, Judge Breyer said over the weekend that he saw the role of judge in the Court as making life better for ordinary citizens, something to which he alluded to here as well. What do you mean by that, sir? Do you have a goal or a special agenda that --

JUDGE BREYER: No, no. Well, what I think of in respect to that is if you think of law in general, there's the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, dozens of guarantees for people, laws and statutes, regulations, rules, common law. There's a whole mass of material that somehow, sometimes, in some way is supposed to fit together. And what is it supposed to do, seen as a whole? What it's supposed to do seen as a whole is allow all people -- all people --to live together in a society where they have so many different views, so many different needs, but to live together in a way that is more harmonious, that is better so that they can work productively together. That's a very general statement, but that is a very general purpose, I think, of law.

THE PRESIDENT: It's hard to be better than that.

Thank you. We're adjourned. (Applause.)

Q (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT: I think we should let him speak for himself. I think we let him speak for himself. I don't think -- if we do it right, there's not necessarily a dichotomy . We can't be free individually unless we're a responsible society. And I think he'll do every well on that.

Q Mr. President, how do you feel about the critics over the weekend who said you caved into pressure from Senator Hatch?

THE PRESIDENT: That's just not right.

Q said you're not willing to fight for someone you believe in like Bruce Babbitt.

THE PRESIDENT: That's just not right. I believe in this guy.

Q We're you surprised by the Western senators?

THE PRESIDENT: No, we -- (inaudible) -- we could confirm all three of them. It was not an issue. I'll say again, that was not an issue. I realize these process things can -- more than half the stories I read about this were wrong, and that's one of them.

Q Which ones were wrong?

THE PRESIDENT: -- we could have confirmed them all.

Q What about the stories you saw on TV? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: They're always right. (Laughter.)

END1:06 P.M. EDT