Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Breyer Fits Squarely in the Center

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Breyer Fits Squarely in the Center

Article excerpt

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a few years, an election and an important court decision make.

Unlike the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of the late 1980s and early '90s, Stephen G. Breyer was asked only perfunctory questions on abortion.

Unlike Clarence Thomas' short answers, Breyer gave detailed replies.

Unlike past confrontations, the Senate Judiciary Committee played an authentic "advise and consent" role - partly because President Bill Clinton listened to both Republicans and Democrats.

Three things have happened since the days when abortion hung over the confirmation process: The Supreme Court reaffirmed the abortion right. Clinton was elected president. And, as president, Clinton has looked for centrist, noncontroversial Supreme Court nominees.

Instead of fending off a confrontational committee, Breyer conducted a three-day lecture portraying law and government as benevolent institutions that can improve people's lives. He spoke without notes or aides whispering in his ear, referring only to a copy of the Constitution.

Despite the different atmosphere, the Senate Judiciary Committee threatened, at times, to mimic its "Saturday Night Live" parody.

Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., misstated court rulings. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., ruminated on most everything, including plans to ride a horse this summer. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, was his usual, irascible self. Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., pleaded, as always, for the nominee to stay in touch with ordinary people.

This insistence on being in touch with "real people" is a mantra of committee Democrats who profusely praised Breyer's comment that: "Law must work for people."

Breyer went out of his way to not seem elitist. He said, "My ideas about people do not come from libraries." He described a summer job digging ditches, which seemed to fascinate senators. And, at one point, he apologized for sounding professorial.

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans like Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah sounded their own familiar refrain: Judges must not legislate.

The problem with this is that no judge ever admits to legislating. In reply, Breyer pointed to the Constitution's "vast open areas," said it is not limited to its original meaning, and should be interpreted in light of "what life is like at the present. …

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