This week Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative judge from the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, to the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Kavanaugh would replace Justice Anthony Kennedy who often served as the Court’s swing vote. Kavanaugh is considered by many to be a reliable conservative who could shift the Court further to the right.
In anticipation of the announcement, the Aspen Institute McCloskey Speaker Series hosted a conversation between Justice Stephen Breyer, associate justice of the Supreme Court, and Joshua Johnson, host of the radio show 1A. Knowing that the audience was anxious to know the identity of the president’s nominee, Justice Breyer admitted that the Court system did not always work perfectly. Yet he sees value in the justices’ differences of opinion.
“You are trying to get something to work in this messy, complicated, multi-institutional body called the law — and we’re not always going to agree,” Justice Breyer said. He remains optimistic, as he said there had been no personal hostility among the justices, even those on opposite sides of an issue.
Justice Breyer reminisced about his first days in Washington, an experience that made him recognize the broad range of opinions held by Americans. Those who are unhappy with recent legislation and actions taken by the government must go to the ballot box, he said. But they should also bear in mind that their views may not be shared by their neighbors.
These differences in opinion and a greater understanding about the role of the Supreme Court need to be taught in high school civics courses, said Justice Breyer. He stressed civic education as the most significant way to create an informed electorate. It can also help Americans productively engage with fellow citizens with whom they disagree — a lesson constantly put into practice in the highest court in the land.