THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE VICE PRESIDENT IN SWEARING-IN CEREMONY OF SUPREME COURT JUSTICE STEPHEN G. BREYER
The East Room
3:40 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much. To the First Lady, I'd like to give my thanks. The President asked me, since he cannot say what he wanted to say on this occasion -- which is so important for our country -- to express some of the sentiments that he would have otherwise expressed in person.
However, we're going to, first of all, have the main event, the swearing-in. Immediately after the oath of office, the new justice will make remarks, and at the conclusion of his remarks I will express some sentiments on behalf of the President and our country and myself.
But first of all, let me ask Justice Scalia and Judge and Mrs. Breyer to come forward.
(Justice Breyer is sworn in.)
JUSTICE BREYER: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Justice Scalia, thank you. Mrs. Clinton, thank you. And really, each and every one of you, thank you very, very much, indeed.
I'm very grateful to President Clinton for appointing me to a position of such great responsibility. I appreciate the personal time and attention that the President gave to the selection process, as well as the able work of the White House staff. And I am also very grateful, too, to the Senate Judiciary Committee; and especially its chairman, Senator Biden; its ranking Republican, Senator Hatch; and, of course, particularly, to the member and former chairman of that committee whose support has meant so much to me over the years and from whom I have learned so much, Senator Kennedy, who is probably the newest grandfather in this room. (Applause.)
As you know, I've had great respect for the Senate Judiciary Committee for years, ever since I was a young staff lawyer -- I hate to tell you, almost two decades ago is when I first started. And that committee has a proud history, a central role in preserving our democracy and defending the rule of law. I thank the committee and the full Senate for their decision to confirm me, and I will do my very best as a member of the Supreme Court to justify the confidence that President Clinton and the Senate have placed in me.
My thoughts today are really very much with my family, whose support and help have meant so much to me. Joanna and Chloe and Nell and Michael have made all the difference in so many things in my life. I have to say not the least during the 22 and a half hours that they sat behind me during the confirmation process.
I also want to thank, really, the many, many, many friends -- many of whom are here today -- who have worked with me and helped me so generously over the years. They include friends from abroad; from San Francisco, where I was born; as well as from Massachusetts, my home, whose own long history demonstrates how laws -- those wise restraints -- have made us free. I'm really mindful, too, of the extraordinary example set for me by the four great justices who have recently retired from the Supreme Court: Justice Marshall, Justice Brennan, Justice White, and I see Chief Justice Burger. And, of course, I also mention my immediate predecessor, Justice Blackmun.
Their magnificent careers, all of them, reflect the very best of the Supreme Court's great history and tradition, and demonstrate the awesome responsibility that is being placed on me. That responsibility is different, but in a very real sense it's similar to the responsibility that is shared by everyone -- almost everyone -- I think perhaps everyone I have ever met who works in the law. I mean, every judge's particular obligation is to deal fairly and thoroughly with the legal problems of the individual parties before the court, whether they are poor or rich or helpless or powerful, minority or majority.
To me, I think the most significant thing about a court is that a court is not a bureaucracy and a judge is not a bureaucrat. Court focuses and the judge focus on individuals, and a focus on individuals is so important, I think indispensable, in today's world. So that when every other door is closed, the door of the court will still be open.
I think, too, observers who are in this country are sometimes amazed by the willingness of Americans to ask courts to decide matters of law that really sometimes involve the most contentious issues you can think of in this society. "How can courts do that?" a lot of these foreign observers wonder. Courts, of course, divide on those matters. But the division within the court so often reflects how difficult it is to decide such matters as judges of perfectly good faith seek to find ways for this diverse nation's diverse peoples to live together, harmoniously, under a single law. And, really, the reason that that's possible is because the public trusts the courts.
Well, that brings me to me and the new office. And I have to say I will, I promise to, do all I can to preserve and to enhance that trust. For it is the very foundation of the rule of law. I want to add that lawyers, of course, work within the law in many different positions, many different ways. But whatever position we find ourselves in, our responsibility, all of us, is the same. It's to take that vast array of Constitution, laws of our country, and make them somehow work better for the 250 million Americans whose lives they touch and whom the law is intended to serve.
So what do I think? I think as all of you think, that the rule of law is the crown jewel of our democracy, and I pledge and promise the oath that I've taken: to preserve, to protect and to defend it to the best of my ability.
So thank you very, very much. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Mr. Justice, those were wonderful remarks. Dr. Joanna Breyer, to members of your family, Chloe and Nell and Michael and other members of your family here, to Mr. Justice Scalia and to Mr. Justice Kennedy. I acknowledged the First Lady earlier and will say another word in a moment. Mr. former Chief Justice Warren Burger and former Justice Brennan.
It is an appropriate sign of the importance this administration and our whole country places on this transition that virtually the entire Cabinet is present, and we are very honored that they are. And forgive me for not acknowledging each of you individually, but it is a mark of respect for you as an individual, sir, and, of course, to the court. And it is also appropriate that we have such distinguished representation from the Congress in the person of Speaker Foley and Chairman Grandpa Kennedy and Senator Hatch, Senator Biden, Senator Thurmond. Also from the House side Chairman Brooks, Congresswoman Schroeder, Senators Leahy and Heflin, DeConcini and Specter, Senator Simon, Senator Cohen, Senator Pressler.
And distinguished guests, let me say by way of expressing again the President's regret that he could not be here with us today. I would like to say there are very few things that would have caused him to miss this ceremony. He is so proud of you, Justice Breyer, and the contribution that he knows you will make on the Supreme Court to the cause of justice in America.
The President feels so strongly about the circumstances in which our country finds itself, and having traveled around the country with him for a long time in 1992, I know why he feels so strongly and why he wants, on behalf of our whole country, to find a way for the nation to respond to the problem of violent crime much more effectively than we have in the past.
I don't want to sound a single partisan note here today. It would be most inappropriate. I do feel very strongly that we must find a way in America to move beyond partisanship in responding to violent crime, and that 100,000 extra police officers and a stiffening of the criminal justice system and an effort to give children who might otherwise take the wrong path an opportunity to say yes to positive alternatives, is an approach that we hope can attract a bipartisan support to make it law.
Now, I was thinking about this occasion and talking with Justice Brennan, who is such a close friend of my parents, and recalling the times when in an apartment my parents have had next to the Supreme Court for many years, looking out and seeing the long lines of people lining up on First Street, many of whom have never been to a court in their entire lives, some of whom are from foreign countries, but all of whom have heard that in the United States of America any person may sit in the Supreme Court as the nine Justices question the merits of a case before them. And whenever I have passed by those lines I have been struck by just how open our judicial system is.
This October the visitors who have waited outside will see a new face, the man who was just sworn in by Justice Scalia and who just spoke to us with such eloquence and force. The standard we must use to choose all of our judges, and especially a Justice of the Supreme Court, is a very simple one. Above all, that person must have a record of distinction and brilliance in the law, a vision of America as a nation of law, and an unswerving commitment to the Constitution and all the freedoms it affords. These are standards of excellence and they alone should guide the choices we make where our judiciary is concerned. No one meets these standards of excellence better than Justice Breyer and I am honored to have joined with the First Lady in participating in his swearing-in today.
The distinguished history of the seat on the court that he is taking has reminded us that the tradition of excellence has helped to sustain our republic for more than two centuries. Many of our most influential justices have held this particular seat, including Stephen Breyer's judicial hero, Oliver Wendall Holmes, and the great jurist from the 19th century, Joseph Storey. Both, incidentally, were also from Massachusetts, Senator Kerry and Senator Kennedy.
Since then, other giants have occupied this seat: Benjamin Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter, and Justice Breyer's own judicial mentor, and the man for whom he clerked, Arthur Goldberg. Most recently, of course, Justice Harry Blackmun, whose passion for justice left his nation a more fair and humane place, served with such distinction in this seat.
Stephen Breyer will conform to this tradition in every way. His sheer excellence, his unmatched understanding of the law, and his genius for building consensus have created a remarkable record. His achievements as a jurist, a scholar, a teacher, and a public servant have been magnificent. His nearly unanimous confirmation by the United States Senate and the strong bipartisan support he has drawn demonstrate the respect his abilities have generated.
He began his career as a clerk for Justice Goldberg 30 years ago this year. He learned how laws are written and how they affect people as special counsel, and later chief counsel, to the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate. As a charter member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, he helped create for our nation a more rational system for sentencing criminals.
In 14 years on the Court of Appeals his powerful and persuasive decisions on almost every significant issue of our time have made him an unquestioned leader of the judiciary. And he has been a professor of law for nearly 25 years, helping young minds grasp the complexity and the humanity of the law.
It is obvious that through it all he has enjoyed the love and support of a very close and talented family. Dr. Breyer, Joanna, his wife, a clinical psychologist who helps ease the pain of children undergoing treatment for cancer, has been such a major part of his success, along with his wonderful children who I acknowledged a moment ago.
Justice Breyer has already given much, but his greatest challenges lie ahead. The court he joins will no doubt face questions of great difficulty and consequence. We will all need his wisdom to help shape America's future into the next century and beyond.
In his endeavors, however, he need only look for direction to those principles that he has trusted to guide him his entire life: that we must listen to each other, that we must search for consensus by building bridges where others have built barriers, and that we can best sustain our democracy and the values we share by honoring in every way the rule of law.
Justice Breyer has been selected to join the ranks of great legal minds in a great decision-making process. He will be part of that process, we trust, for many years and part of an intellectual journey that complements the journey undertaken by the President today.
It is one that will help Americans realize our dreams of justice under the law. All Americans, whether those in law libraries scrutinizing Justice Breyer's opinions, or police officers guided by those opinions as they keep our communities safe, or simply those citizens lining up early in the morning outside the marble steps on First Street.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are invited to join Justice
Breyer and his family and his colleagues in the dining room for a
reception. Thank you very much.
END 4:00 P.M. EDT