Supremely Qualified - Justice Stephen G. Breyer

By Wayne, Danielle L.; Pollack, Daniel | Corrections Today, August 1995 | Go to article overview

Supremely Qualified - Justice Stephen G. Breyer

Wayne, Danielle L., Pollack, Daniel, Corrections Today

On Aug. 3, 1994, Stephen G. Breyer was confirmed as the 108th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to a published report in The Washington Post, Breyer envisions law in its most perfect sense as a balanced orchestra "that is more harmonious, that is better so that [people] can work productively together." This metaphor can be extended to include Breyer himself. Similar to an experienced conductor, he orchestrates his court decisions with what might be termed a flexible pragmatism.

Testifying at Breyer's confirmation hearing, former ACA President Helen Corrothers said, "His penchant for hard work and thorough preparation, along with his God-given wisdom, enable him to synthesize the various, seemingly dissimilar ideas sufficiently to be a leader in effecting compromise on numerous occasions."

Corrothers' ringing endorsement is heartening, but a year after his confirmation corrections professionals still may be wondering where Breyer stands on corrections issues.

As an original member of the U.S. Sentencing Committee in the mid-1980s, he was the key judicial architect of mandatory sentencing guidelines. Federal judges, however, are generally split on these guidelines. Some argue that the guidelines are too lenient; others claim they are too severe. Both sides agree they limit judicial power. Breyer counters that much of the criticism aimed at him is a consequence of congressional mandatory minimum sentences that sometimes negate the guidelines.

Beyond his work on guidelines, some of Justice Breyer's tendencies are evident in a review of previous corrections cases he has authored. Arruda v. Fair (710 F.2d 866 [1983]) concerned an inmate placed in a special maximum security unit at Massachusetts Correctional Institution, Walpole. Inmate Arruda questioned the prison's strip-search policy going to and from the unit en route to or from the law library and before receiving guests in the unit's visiting area. Arruda contended that these regulations violated his Fourth and Eighth Amendment rights.

Breyer ruled that the state's strip-search policy should be upheld. He maintained concern for the inmate's Fourth Amendment rights, indicating that strip-searches should be conducted in a manner and location that treats inmates humanely and safely. However, Breyer justified these searches as necessary because of the nature of a maximum security prison and the reoccurrence of inmates' belligerent behavior. Consequently, Breyer argued this policy was reasonable because it ensured safety and deterred contraband activities within the prison. He found no grounds for the claim that the searches were punitive.

In several other corrections cases, Breyer has come face-to-face with the issue of "qualified immunity." According to Black's Law Dictionary, qualified immunity is the "affirmative defense which shields public officials performing discretionary functions from civil damages if their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." His position becomes clear after examining these particular cases.

In Bonitz v. Fair (804 F.2d 164 [1986]), Breyer ruled on an interlocutory qualified immunity appeal. The case concerned nine female inmates residing in a medium security prison for women and men. The plaintiffs claimed that their Fourth Amendment rights were violated by 12 officers and officials of the Massachusetts Department of Correction, the Massachusetts State Police Department and the Office of the Middlesex County District Attorney. The alleged infringement occurred during a strip-search that was not conducted under the legal parameters of a search: Inmates were exposed to extremely unsanitary procedures, and male officers were present when female inmates were searched.

Although the defendants obtained a valid warrant, Breyer focused on other issues, specifically the role of the appellate court. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Supremely Qualified - Justice Stephen G. Breyer


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.