Justice Breyer to discuss liberty, April 30

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and Princeton professor Robert George will discuss the evolving concept of liberty in an event titled "Active Liberty: A Conversation" at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30, in McCosh 50 on the Princeton campus.

The free discussion is a ticketed event open primarily to University students, faculty and staff, with a limited number of tickets available to the general public. The deadline for advance media registration is 11:30 a.m. April 24. The event is sponsored by the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, the Program in Law and Public Affairs, and the University Center for Human Values.

It will be a continuation of a conversation begun in 2004 when George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and founding director of the James Madison Program, was one of two panelists to deliver a response to talks Breyer gave at Harvard as part of the Tanner Lectures on Human Values. Breyer's lectures were later published as a book titled "Active Liberty."

"In the lectures and book, Justice Breyer argues that the balance in constitutional law has shifted too far in the direction of liberty being considered freedom from the government's interference with individual choice and action," George said. "Breyer argues that it is time to place greater emphasis on liberty as participation in the enterprise of democratic citizenship in the American constitutional republic. It is liberty in this latter sense that Breyer is referring to when he titles his book 'Active Liberty.'"  

In George's commentaries on Breyer's lectures at Harvard, he applauded Breyer's call for a revival of the concept of liberty as active participation in the enterprise of democratic self-government. However, he criticized the justice's approach to constitutional interpretation as licensing "a wide and constitutionally unwarranted measure of discretion for democratically unaccountable judges to veto legislative decisions and make public policy."   

After what George described as lively exchanges between himself and the justice, Breyer accepted George's invitation to speak at Princeton, and Breyer suggested that they continue the conversational format. Breyer will not deliver formal remarks, but instead will sit on stage with George to continue their conversation and also take questions from the audience.

Breyer was appointed a Supreme Court justice by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and has written books and articles about administrative law, economic regulation and the Constitution. In 1980 he was appointed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Jimmy Carter, becoming chief judge in 1990.

George is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics and formerly served as a presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He was a judicial fellow at the U.S. Supreme Court and has written on constitutional law and legal philosophy.

The conversation will be simulcast in Room 46 of McCosh Hall, where no tickets will be required. Tickets to attend the event in McCosh 50 will be available to Princeton University students, faculty, and staff beginning at noon Monday, April 24, at University Ticketing in the Frist Campus Center. Tickets will be distributed from noon to 6 p.m. through Wednesday, April 26, while supplies last. One ticket will be given per Princeton University I.D., and each student, faculty or staff member may present up to two I.D.'s when picking up tickets.  

A limited number of tickets for the general public will be available from noon to 3 p.m. Thursday, April 27, at the Richardson Auditorium ticket office. The general public may pick up a maximum of two tickets per person.

Members of the news media interested in attending the event must call (609) 258-3601 or e-mail [email protected] no later than 11:30 a.m. Monday, April 24.