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  5. Retired Justice Stephen Breyer's advice to a divided nation: Let everyone speak, disagree respectfully, and then go play cards

Retired Justice Stephen Breyer's advice to a divided nation: Let everyone speak, disagree respectfully, and then go play cards

Katie Balevic   

Retired Justice Stephen Breyer's advice to a divided nation: Let everyone speak, disagree respectfully, and then go play cards
  • Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer is worried about a divided America.
  • In a New York Times op-ed, Breyer suggested the country should do what justices do: listen.

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

It concerns many, including retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.

After 28 years on the Supreme Court bench, Breyer said he and his colleagues never yelled or sniped at each other — even when they strongly disagreed about interpretations of the law.

In an op-ed in The New York Times, Breyer said the nation could learn a thing or two from how the panel of justices treated each other during his career. Attentive listening to the opposing view often "increased the chances of agreement or compromise," Breyer wrote.

"And I wonder: If justices who disagree so profoundly 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 staunch disagreements during legal arguments, the justices would attend sports games or shop for robe accessories together, Breyer said. Though he was one of the broadly liberal justices, Breyer described playing games of bridge with right-leaning Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and their spouses.

"What works for nine people with lifetime appointments won't work for the entire nation, but listening to one another in search of a consensus might help," Breyer wrote.

The advice seems applicable in the current socio-political environment, where wars in Gaza and Ukraine are dividing Congress, which is already facing exceptional gridlock and turnover among members and staffers.

Similar divides rage among those not in government. Gen Z men and women are split politically to the point that they refuse to date each other. A pandemic in the social media age divided boomers from their millennial children on a litany of lasting public health issues.

But people can do better than yell their opposing arguments over each other, Breyer said.

"Much better to listen to what others say and to find in their points of view material for working out an agreement, or perhaps a compromise," he wrote.


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