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Supreme Court Justice Breyer and Center Director Gewirtz in China

When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer told China Center Director Paul Gewirtz that he would be in Beijing in late May 2012 for the ceremony awarding the Pritzker Architecture Prize (Breyer is a member of the Pritzker jury that awards the Prize), Professor Gewirtz immediately asked Justice Breyer if he would be willing to do a few events that our China Law Center would organize while he was in Beijing.   The Justice agreed and Gewirtz arranged for four events:  (1) a speech at Tsinghua University Law School the day the Pritzker jury was holding an event on the Tsinghua University campus; (2) an interview with Caixin Media conducted by its Editor-in-Chief, the pioneering Chinese journalist Hu Shuli, with whomThe China Law Center has had a long collaborative relationship; (3) breakfast with Peking University Law School Professor and Vice Dean Wang Xixin, one of the Center’s most important partners and a scholar whose focus on administrative law parallels Justice Breyer’s early academic work as a professor at Harvard Law School; and (4) lunch with U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke.

The speech at Tsinghua University Law School was entitled “The Supreme Court in the American System of Government.”    Justice Breyer gave an overview of the Supreme Court’s role and practices, and then summarized the argument in his most recent book, Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge’s View, which will be published in China this summer in Chinese (advance copies were rushed into print for the Justice’s visit).   He described how the Supreme Court’s decisions had been disobeyed or ignored at various points in U.S. history; how the Court had developed its legitimacy as the guardian of the Constitution over time; and what the Court must do going forward, in his judgment, to maintain the public’s confidence and thereby its own distinctive role in promoting a workable government without compromising constitutional principles.   The appreciative audience at Tsinghua overflowed into a second venue -- Tsinghua’s Dean Wang Zhenmin said it was the largest audience at the Law School since Ronald Dworkin had spoken there more than 10 years ago.  And Justice Breyer answered the audience’s questions until he had to leave for his next event.  A video recording of the Tsinghua event, including remarks by Dean Wang and Professor Gewirtz, has been posted on China’s Youku (in English with Chinese subtitles). 

The interview with Caixin Media conducted by its Editor-in-Chief, Hu Shuli, produced a major cover story in Caixin’s flagship publication, Century Weekly.  (For Caixin’s coverage on Justice Breyer, see the full Caixin story in Chinese,  the abbreviated English-language version published on Caixin’s English language website, and a full English-language translation provided by The China Law Center.)  The cover story had three parts: (1) an introduction about Justice Breyer and his background, entitled “Impression: The Invisible Power”; (2) the interview itself; and (3) an essay by Dean Ji Weidong of Shanghai Jiao Tong Law School, “Mission and Authority of the Supreme Court,” commenting on Justice Breyer’s remarks and their relevance for China’s ongoing legal reforms.  In the lengthy interview, Justice Breyer answered a broad range of questions, primarily concerning the rule of law and the appropriate roles of government and the market in an economy (the latter reflecting Hu Shuli’s recognition that Justice Breyer is one of the leading U.S. experts on government regulation and that as Chief Counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he worked closely with Senator Edward M. Kennedy to pass the Airline Deregulation Act).  Among other matters, Justice Breyer addressed why the rule of law is important, why courts are important, the importance of constitutional review, challenges that must be overcome to establish and maintain an effective and authoritative court system, the role of public opinion on judging, how corruption can be reduced, the role of checks and balances in good governance, and the appropriate role of government regulation of markets.   The Caixin story has created a permanent written legacy of Justice Breyer’s May 2012 trip to China.