U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is years removed from hammering out legislative compromises, but that doesn't mean he's lacking in advice to pass along to Capitol Hill.
Breyer offered some ideas about how to reach across the partisan aisle this week, when he addressed a bipartisan retreat for members of the House Judiciary Committee. Though he's been a judge or justice for three decades, Breyer served as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1979 and 1980 under then-Chairman Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).
His appearance at the retreat was the idea of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. In an interview, Smith said he was planning the retreat several months ago when he happened across a New Yorker profile of Breyer that mentioned the justice's old job. The two met after the Nov. 2 elections, and Smith extended an invitation.
"We did not talk about legal philosophy," Smith said of Breyer's appearance, "but we did think about how, in his time as chief counsel, they managed to have bipartisan successes."
Committee members heard three basic points, Smith said. First, meet often with the other side, even daily. Second, give credit to others for any successes. And third, be persistent in trying to work out differences.
About 34 of the committee's 39 members turned out for the retreat, a committee aide said. Other speakers included Wendy Swire, who is a consultant on conflict resolution, and officials from the Justice Department and other executive branch agencies.
Smith, who introduced bipartisan legislation this week aimed at international drug conspiracies, said he hopes the retreat leads to greater cooperation. "I certainly anticipate that we plowed the ground a little bit for more bipartisan legislation in the future," he said.
Through a spokeswoman, Breyer declined to comment. One of his colleagues, Justice Antonin Scalia, is scheduled to address another group of House members Monday at the invitation of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).
Updated at 12:01 p.m. with Breyer's response.