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Breyer: 'Best Way to Preserve American Values Is to Know What’s Going on Abroad'

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer argued that the best way to preserve American values is to be aware of what’s going on abroad because the solutions to America’s major problems are partly international.

Breyer explained that he was at a seminar with Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who argued against the Court referring to decisions of foreign courts in its opinions.

He recalled telling Goodlatte there are many countries in Eastern Europe that have newly established courts, which help to produce protections of democracy and human rights, and sometimes they need some recognition. Breyer said the issue has become a political debate “more than” a legal debate.

“But what’s moving the congressman and why is this so salient politically? My own opinion, because people are concerned that the more we consult with courts from abroad or institutions from abroad or look to abroad it will partly be the same old group of slightly left-wing people consulting with each other or, more importantly, what will happen is a watering down of our American values,” Breyer said.

“I say that’s what’s worrying you, a watering down of our American values. Well, that’s a good point. I don’t deny that problem,” the justice added.

“But the reason I write this, in part, to show you what’s going on is that I hope by the time you read it, and I hope you do, you will come to the conclusion, which is mine, that the best way to preserve our American values is to know what’s going on abroad and participate because the major problems are international in scope and major solutions have to, in part at least, be international in scope,” he said, referring to his new book The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities.

Breyer said if the Supreme Court does not learn from foreign courts, “the world will go on without us and we will have less influence than we would otherwise.”

Breyer was asked if he is concerned that other countries’ courts cite the U.S. Supreme Court less often than they did in the past.

“My job is not to be popular. One thing you learn in my job is don’t try to be popular. I mean, that’s not the point. The satisfaction you’re going to get out of it, maybe you’ll be the only one who has that satisfaction,” he responded.

“You try to get the thing decided correctly as best you can and I think that knowing more in these areas, in certain areas, about what goes on will help me decide this case better as a matter of American law. And whether that has other things attached to it and people cite us more or cite us less, that’s up to them – that’s fine.”