Breyer Urges Cooperation in Divisive Political Era


The U.S. Supreme Court is known for its collegiality.

The nine justices—frequently on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum—seem to genuinely respect and like one another. In a recent discussion at Harvard, Justices Stephen G. Breyer—a Democratic appointee—and Neil Gorsuch—a Republican one—stressed the importance of the "civility of the court," according to the Harvard Gazette.

"The justices shake hands before ascending to the bench, explained Gorsuch, who described the institution as 'just nine people in polyester black robes.'"

That collegiality is in stark contrast to the divisive political climate following the contentious 2016 elections.

While not specifically mentioning that political climate, Breyer urged an audience of mostly progressive lawyers to keep an "open mind." Open-mindedness doesn’t mean that you don’t have views on a particular issue, he said. It just means that you are willing to change those views when presented with new information, Breyer explained.

So how do you translate that open-mindedness into cooperation? Breyer said that’s something he learned while working as the chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee under Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy.

First, you have to listen to people, Breyer said. When you find something that you agree on, however small, say, "What a great idea you had." And then see where you can build from there, Breyer added.

If you are able to ultimately come to some kind of resolution, be sure to give credit to the other person when talking to the media or the like, Breyer said. The other person will be sure to remember that and appreciate it, he said. And that may help in the future negotiations.

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