Winsor students had a rare opportunity on Wednesday, December 13 when U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer took to the stage during morning assembly. Kept largely a surprise until the final hours, the visit from Justice Breyer offered unique insight into the judicial system and the role of the Supreme Court.
Sophie Yates '20 and Charlotte Jones '24 had the privilege of introducing the Justice, and their own thoughtfully written words conveyed an appreciation for the magnitude of the opportunity. Admittedly obsessed with the court and the Constitution, Sophie exclaimed, "This is the most important thing that could ever happen to me!"
Providing clarity and inspiration that will long outlive the hour spent, Justice Breyer covered everything from how a case – among millions – makes its way to the Supreme Court, to the responsibility of citizens in a democracy. While most people think of cases in terms of winners and losers, when it comes to federal law, it is about something greater and more fundamental.
He reflected in the kinds of questions in which the Supreme Court becomes engaged, including when judges across the nation interpret or apply the words of the law differently. "When our country needs us to," he said, "we figure out the meaning of the words. That is what we do."
Holding up the pocket Constitution handed out to everyone in the assembly, he added that it is something he refers to daily. It not only sets the guidelines, it requires our engagement. "See what happens in countries that use rocks and stones and guns instead of courts and judges, lawyers, and a Constitution," he said. While anyone can follow a law when it's right or they agree with it, lasting democracy depends on a greater commitment.
In a poignant moment, the justice also shared his take on success. Recalling the words of his father, he said that there's only one thing you need to do. "Do your job. Do your job as well as you can do it. It's a no loss situation." And above all else, "what you should aim for is something you are happy doing and that you feel is worthwhile. If you feel it's worthwhile, you do it, and you do it well, that's a success."
Justice Breyer ended his visit on campus with a Q&A session with Class I. The eager students had more questions than time would allow, and crowded around him for an autograph on their own pocket-sized Constitutions before he left. It was a fitting end to a unique and memorable day.