Last updated on: 12/6/2016 | Author:

Stephen G. Breyer, LLB Biography

United States Supreme Court Justice
Con to the question "Should the Death Penalty Be Legal?"

“[R]ather than try to patch up the death penalty’s legal wounds one at a time, I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution.

The relevant legal standard is the standard set forth in the Eighth Amendment. The Constitution there forbids the ‘inflict[ion]’ of ‘cruel and unusual punishments.’ Amdt. 8. The Court has recognized that a ‘claim that punishment is excessive is judged not by the standards that prevailed in 1685… or when the Bill of Rights was adopted, but rather by those that currently prevail… Indeed, the Constitution prohibits various gruesome punishments that were common…

In 1976, the Court thought that the constitutional infirmities in the death penalty could be healed; the Court in effect delegated significant responsibility to the States to develop procedures that would protect against those constitutional problems. Almost 40 years of studies, surveys, and experience strongly indicate, however, that this effort has failed. Today’s administration of the death penalty involves three fundamental constitutional defects: (1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use…

For the reasons I have set forth in this opinion, I believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment.”

Dissenting opinion in Glossip v. Gross,, June 29, 2015

Involvement and Affiliations:
  • Associate Justice, US Supreme Court, 1994-present
  • Chief Justice, US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, 1990-1994
  • Professor, Harvard Law School, 1967-1994
  • Circuit Justice, US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, 1980-1990
  • Chief Counsel, US Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 1979-1980
  • Professor, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, 1977-1980
  • Special Counsel, US Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 1974-1975
  • Assistant Special Prosecutor, Watergate Special Prosecution Force, US Department of Justice, 1973
  • Special Assistant, US Attorney General for Antitrust, 1965-1967
  • Law Clerk, US Supreme Court Associate Justice Arthur J. Goldberg, 1964-1965
  • Fact-checker, The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy (Warren Commission), 1963
  • Former Visiting Professor, College of Law Sydney, Australia, University of Rome, and Tulane University Law School
  • LLB (Bachelor of Laws), magna cum laude, Harvard Law School, 1964
  • BA, First Class Honors, Oxford University Magdalen College, 1961
  • AB, Philosophy, Stanford University, 1959
  • Attended Lowell High School, San Francisco, CA
  • Nominated to the US Supreme Court by former US President Bill Clinton and confirmed by the US Senate with a vote of 87-9