Justice Stephen Breyer has been married to a British subject (wife Joanna) for more than 40 years, but he confessed recently he still does not comprehend Britishisms in language -- or so he joked in a speech May 28 at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. Breyer said that when he is in London, he is still puzzled when he sees signs in the tube that say "mind the gap." Breyer asked rhetorically, "What does that mean? 'Take care of a well-known clothing store?' 'A hollow space between the ears?'"
Breyer continued, "And I still fall victim to differences in English manners. A friend, a British judge, showed me how he encourages lawyers to end a lengthy argument. He turned to the lawyer before him and said, 'I've understood your point, Counsel, to the best of my ability.' The lawyer replied, 'Very good, my Lord,' and he sat down. So I tried it in America. 'I've understood your point, Counsel, to the best of my ability.' The lawyer looked up. 'Well then, your Honor, I guess I'd better repeat it.'" Ba da boom.
Breyer's audience was a gathering of those who, like him, had been Marshall Scholars. That program, meant as a British thank-you for the post-World War II Marshall Plan, has allowed more than 1,000 American students to study in Great Britain.
After graduating from Stanford University, Breyer won a Marshall scholarship and studied in 1959 at Magdalen College, Oxford, before he went on to Harvard Law School.
Breyer told the group that his year in Britain "helped us understand that the individual's struggle to lead a decent, civilized life began long before our own country was born."
In introducing Breyer, British Ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald lightheartedly noted that "Justice Breyer made the excellent career decision to marry a citizen of his adoptive educational home."
The ambassador displayed a close knowledge of the high court's docket when he went on to say, "I know I speak for everyone present in saying how grateful and delighted we are that Justice Breyer has been able to tear himself away from Boumediene v. Bush and D.C. v Heller to speak to us tonight."