Alhurra Interviews Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer

On Jan. 8, Alhurra’s Inside Washington aired a rare in-depth interview with Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Taped at the Inside Washington’s studio, Justice Breyer discussed democracy, the U.S. Constitution and the role of the Supreme Court within the American branches of government. Hosted by Robert Satloff, Inside Washington is a weekly program that gives viewers an in-depth look at the political process in Washington. The interview is the second interview with a sitting Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia was interviewed on Inside Washington in 2006. The following are excerpts of Justice Breyer’s interview

Breyer on the U.S. government

[The U.S. has] a democracy that protects basic human liberty. It assures a degree of equality that divides power between states and federal government, between three branches– executive, legislative, judicial. It divides that power so no people in government get too much power. And it insists on a rule of law.

Breyer on the power of Supreme Court relative to other branches of government

This document, as I’ve just described it, sets boundaries. It sets guidelines. It sets outer limits. I mean, it describes what the democracy, what the human rights, what the equality, what the rule of law is. But we are like the frontier guard. We are like the boundary patrol. Life in the frontier is sometimes very uncomfortable. There’s some difficult cases. Is Guantanamo inside or outside? What does the Constitution say about how to protect the people in Guantanamo, whether they can be there or not, what rights they have? What does it say about abortion? Inside or outside? What does it say about prayer in schools? Inside or outside? Difficult questions, but they’re boundary questions. And between those boundaries, there is a vast room for the people through the democratic process to decide by vote what kind of country they want. So I agree that we are paramount in defining the boundaries, almost all the time. But in saying what lies between those boundaries, that’s the democratic process.

Breyer on the enduring characteristics of the Constitution

It protects the freedom of speech. That’s freedom of expression. It protects individual liberty by saying no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. There are many protections, and those protections, each of them, have a basic value that they encapsulate. Now, the difficult task for a modern judge is to take those basic values– democracy, liberty, the freedom of speech– which do not change and apply them to a world that changes every minute. The framers who wrote those words, “the freedom of speech,” did not know about the Internet. The framers who wrote that the federal government can regulate interstate commerce did not know about trains and airplanes and how those words and the values that do not change apply to a world that does change. That is the difficult judicial task.