Andrew Crespo will never forget his first experience with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
Crespo was a Harvard law student, and he’d been sent to interview Breyer, a meeting that took place in the kitchen of the Breyer’s house while the eminent jurist ate cereal. “I can’t think of anyone who is as free of the airs of the position as Justice Breyer,” Crespo said. “He’s just himself, no matter what rooms he walks into.”
As Breyer prepares to retire from the U.S. Supreme Court after serving as associate justice for 28 years, four of his former clerks gathered Monday afternoon to discuss his legacy and how his departure will shape the court. Organized by the Harvard Law Review, the hybrid meeting on Zoom and before a live audience was moderated by Crespo ’05, J.D. ’08, Morris Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law, who clerked for Breyer in the 2009 term.
The other speakers were Caitlin Halligan, former solicitor general for the state of New York and partner at Selendy Gay Elsberg PLLC; Pratik Shah, head of Akin Gump’s Supreme Court and Appellate Practice; and Neal Katyal, a law professor at Georgetown University. The three are considered among the nation’s leading appellate lawyers.
While they discussed Breyer’s impact on the court and the ways it has changed since he joined it in 1994, the speakers also shared anecdotes and memories that underscored their admiration and fondness for him.
Shah, for instance, recalled his introduction to Breyer as pleasant and unexpected, if fraught.
Shah was a first-year law student at the time. And he was very nervous after having been summoned to the office of his boss, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer, after turning in a draft memo he’d written involving due process, even though he hadn’t taken constitutional law yet.
“I worked hard on it, and the next morning, Judge Breyer calls me into the office and says, ‘I haven’t had a chance to review your memo all that closely, but my brother has some questions for you,’” said Shah, who clerked for Breyer in 2003. “And off to the side is sitting Justice Breyer, whom I had never met.”