A tribute to my friend Justice Stephen Breyer, on the day of his retirement…

So much will be written about Justice Stephen Breyer’s tenure on the United States Supreme Court. But I want to share how I met the Breyer family, our friendship, and mutual support over the years. Joel Klein was the Chief White House Counsel in 1994 and in charge of Stephen Breyer’s confirmation process. It was the early summer of 1994. I was Joel’s tennis coach, and, at times, I would set up doubles at The White House tennis court. The Clinton White House tennis court was busy with several administration people reserving the court. Lloyd Bentsen, Donna Shalala, Les Aspin, Larry Summers, Madeleine Albright, Leon Panetta, Richard Holbrooke, Gene Sperling, Mack Mclarty, and David Gergen all come to mind. The Breyer family are all tennis players, with Dr. Joanna Breyer (Stephen’s wife) having played at Junior Wimbledon. So she is quite a player!

Joel called and asked me to come to The White House court to meet and drill the Breyer family. I met Stephen only briefly, but I recall how bright and alert his eyes were and he had an easy smile. Joel and Stephen stayed in the West Wing for confirmation work, and Joanna and Michael Breyer (son) headed to the court. They were very nice and excited to play on our number 1 court in the land. We got on brilliantly and continued this routine frequently as Stephen continued to prep. Sometimes President Clinton would come out and say hi and see what was happening. All wonderful, rich memories! Stephen was confirmed on July 29th, 1994, 87-9. My husband and I hosted a welcome to our Capital City party for them in our home, including many tennis players from Capitol Hill, agencies, the diplomatic corps, and the administration I coached. Stephen is so proud of Joanna and her tennis expertise.

As we all became more friendly, Stephen engaged in my foundation, the Institute for Education (IFE). He loved attending programs as a guest to get educated and eventually got involved as a special guest speaker. He hosted IFE at the Supreme Court several times! He invited my family to his chambers before attending arguments. I hosted book parties for both Joanna and Stephen on their books!

They are the kind of friends you can always count on to show up. Both Joanna and Stephen are constantly curious, lifelong learners. Wheather IFE hosted a salon on IoT, drones, 5G, WEB3, or a blockchain program – they were there. They love learning about #civictech, White House Presidential Innovation Fellows, USDS, Coding it Forward, Tech Congress, and the US Digital Corps. US CTO Megan Smith and Justice Breyer had a fireside chat salon and talked about deep fakes! A tech leader and a Supreme Court Justice…how awesome is that?

The Breyer family holiday card is one I keep every year, and I have saved 27 of them. The card is a collage of grandkids, kids, and the family on travel adventures — building yurts, biking, and just goofing off and loving one another. Justice Breyer carries the US Constitution in his lapel pocket daily and pulls it out often. It is holy and sacred to him. He was the most courteous Justice. He speaks fluent French and often throws out quotes from French statesmen and poets. In March this year, Justice Breyer toasted/roasted me at a dinner where Intevity and Ben Elemore honored me. It was a highlight of my life!

I will work hard to keep them in DC as much as possible, using tennis and tech as a carrot, as they decamp to their family house in Cambridge. He had a brilliant finish with an excellent majority opinion (and two fine dissents). One of the most important of his career. Roberts assigned it to him, showing his high regard for Justice Breyer. TORRES v. TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY. He has a brilliant jurist and legal mind, but it has always been his curiosity that I admired most.

28 years! Thank you, Justice Breyer, for your incredible service.

About the author

Coach Kathy Kemper, known as “Coach” to many, is Founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a non-profit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership, civility, and finding common ground, locally, nationally, and in the world community.

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