Supreme Court Justice Tells Divided Nation to Disagree Respectfully

Between devastating wars abroad and heated upcoming elections at home, the American people seem more divided than ever.

This concerns a lot of people, including retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.

After 28 years on the Supreme Court, Breyer said he and his colleagues never yelled or took shots at each other, even when they strongly disagreed on the interpretation of the law.

In an article in The New York Times, Breyer said the nation could learn a thing or two from the way the justices have treated each other during his career. Listening carefully to opposing viewpoints “often increases the chances of agreement or compromise,” Breyer writes.

“And I wonder: If justices who disagree so deeply can do so respectfully, perhaps it is possible for our politically divided country to do the same,” Breyer wrote in the op-ed.

Despite their sharp disagreements during legal arguments, the justices attended sports games together or shopped for dress accessories, Breyer said. Despite being one of the largely liberal justices, Breyer described playing games of bridge with right-wing Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and their spouses.

“What works for nine lifetime appointees won’t work for the entire nation, but listening to each other in search of consensus might help,” Breyer wrote.

This advice seems applicable in today’s sociopolitical environment, where the wars in Gaza and Ukraine are dividing Congress, which is already facing exceptional gridlock and turnover among members and staff.

Similar divisions rage among those outside the government. Gen Z men and women are politically divided to the point that they refuse to date. A pandemic in the age of social media has divided baby boomers from their millennial children over a litany of enduring public health issues.

But people can do better than shout their opposing arguments at each other, Breyer said.

“It is much better to listen to what others say and find elements in their points of view to reach an agreement, or even a compromise,” he wrote.


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