The 24th Annual Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture featured United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. The turnout to hear the judge speak at Ahavath Achim Synagogue on the evening of Nov. 7 was tremendous, putting both parking and seating at a “premium” for the free event.
After a message on the just-passed elections from Rabbi Neil Sandler and an introduction from the founder of the lecture series himself, Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, Breyer launched into educating and entertaining a massive audience that included many local judges, lawyers and law students.
The premise of the justice’s lecture – entitled “Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge’s View” – was to answer the questions that he himself frequently fields and contemplates. To begin, he explored why the American people should or would follow the decisions of nine unelected individuals, the Supreme Court Justices.
“Contrary to popular belief, there are 308 million Americans who are not lawyers,” Breyer said, getting a rise out of the audience with the wisecrack. “So, why do you have something at stake here?”
To begin to address such a weighty query, the justice went back to the beginning – of the United States, that is – to Alexander Hamilton and his Federalist Papers. It was in one portion of this fabled collection of documents that Hamilton first reasoned out why a third branch of government should wield the power of determining the “Constitutionality” of individual laws.
Breyer then cited several Supreme Court cases – Marbury v. Madison, Brown v. the Board of Education, Bush v. Gore and Korematsu v. the United States among them – which illustrate why and how the system of checks and balances originally laid out by our country’s forefathers is not only effective, but ideal.
With each case, Breyer noted how certain opinions – both assenting and dissenting – further illustrate how Supreme Court justices help shape U.S. policy and lawmaking and, in turn, the lives of everyday citizens.
And speaking of the people, they have a responsibility, a huge role to play, too.
“Know your history a little bit; understand your government institutions,” Breyer asked of his listeners. “ I hope that by doing so, you’ll do this Constitution the service of participating in public life.
“The most marvelous thing I see is when I look out into that courtroom and I see people of every race, every religion, every possible point of view, being there and resolving their differences,” he concluded.
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