The Supreme Court of the United States

Located In Washington DC, the Supreme Court is an authority which deals with the more important cases of the US. Those involving a state of the Union, or a state abroad and a diplomat. Every decision it takes is categorical. The main problem with this authority is that it has no power and cannot do anything about other cases. It also has the ability to decide is the laws of the United States match with the Constitution. According to Stephen Breyer, who is one of the judges there, it is one of the most important roles of the Court (in addition to her role in 1954 against segregation in the US).

Stephen Breyer is one of the nine judges belonging to the Supreme Court, called Associate Justice and ruled by the Chief Justice. He was this morning with Patrick Cohen in the 7/9, a radio podcast on France Inter, which you can read online by clicking HERE. He has been a judge at the Supreme Court for 21 years, nominated by Bill Clinton. He published a book in French : Le droit américain et le monde (Odile Ja
cob’s editions).


Many topics are raised throughout the interview :

  • the election of George W Bush against Al Gore : the split in the society and the pacifist reaction of people, which S.Breyer approves even if he was part of those who contested the final decision.
  • The question of the Constitution Americans will not change (which is different from the French Constitution), because of their tradition.
  • The difference between our Constitutional Counsel and the american Supreme Court, which has also the duty to analyze the laws proposed by the Congress. (Therefore it is the highest Court of the US, unlike or Constitutional Counsel).
  • The question of the politic campaigns : the difference between France and America results from the amount of money you need as an American candidate to campaign whereas in France a public system is set thanks to the medias to create a debate. To S.Breyer, maybe it is better not to base the elections on money.
  • The problem of the Supreme Court which does not have enough political power, when it comes to face some issues which are not Linked to the constitutional laws (the ecocide issue, for instance).


judges of the Supreme Court S.Breyer at the top, second from the left.

Important issues are raised by the judge so that we can notice the differences between America and France, when it comes to judging. But the judges of the Supreme Court could teach our public prosecutors to be better « judges » and to confront better issues, more related to legislative problems. Because our prosecutors don’t act like they should, S.Breyer do not see them as real judges.



Nevertheless the issue for the Supreme Court judges is their inability to take part to some important cases. For example, the question of globalisation. As it is not always belonging to the law, the judges cannot take action. If something is not in the law, it is not their responsibility and therefore
they have a limited role.

In this short, but dense interview, it is easy to understand the personality of Stephen Breyer. He takes part in what journalists call the « progressive quartet » because he has newideas far from the traditional ones, but is also a very involved judge. Fond of French culture, he refers to the beginning of « La chartreuse de Parme », from Stendhal, todraw a parallel to his role as a judge. It is not enough to stand somewhere, such as Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo, not knowing what to do. Judges have to be informed all of the time about what happens in society. That is why he thinks concrete things are important, and his book aims to give concrete exemples from the abstract notions of the Constitution.

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