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The eldest daughter of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has just published an autobiographical book. But you wouldn’t know her notable lineage from reading it. Chloe Breyer mentions her father only twice in the book, never by name and never by his famous line of work. The book jacket mentions him not at all. And if that is a surprise, here is another one: This book by the daughter of a Jewish justice is about her first year at an Episcopal seminary. The book is called “The Close,” named after the enclosure or courtyard that symbolizes the religious community at General Theological Seminary in New York, where she trained for her calling as an Episcopal priest. It is a compelling book that charts her personal path toward God. It began in the summer between her first and second years at Harvard College, with a conversation with a 92-year-old Texas missionary — her “panhandle epiphany,” as she described it. It continued through the formidable hurdles she had to pass before entering the seminary, and then the challenges of her training — ranging from learning Greek to a stint as a chaplain-in-training at Bellevue Hospital. She learned to pace her life by the seasons of the church and to live by its rules. All the while she was juggling the demands of marriage, living in New York, and a social conscience that pulled her toward helping the disfavored. She mentions her upbringing only briefly, stating that “I grew up in an interfaith, academic household, the daughter of an American Jewish father and an English Anglican mother.” Baptized into the Church of England, she and her brother and sister attended an Episcopal church in Cambridge, Mass. “My father respected the old Irish American rector and thought my brother, sister and I should have some exposure to organized religion,” she writes. “Even if it wasn’t his own Jewish faith.” As she grew older, Passover seders and Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services also became part of that exposure to religion. Now 30, Chloe Breyer was ordained as a deacon this summer and works as the chaplain at the school affiliated with the majestic Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. She preaches at Sunday services and conducts chapel at the school four times a week. Reached at her office there, she speaks reluctantly about her family and her father. “I purposely did not spend a lot of time talking about my father,” she says. “I want to respect my father’s privacy, as he has respected mine.” But she recognizes that some of the attention paid to the book will be triggered by the fact that she is a justice’s daughter. She says that when she graduated from Harvard, she considered going to law school and took the LSATs several times. “That was certainly a well-trodden path in my family,” she says. “But I was suspicious of the reflexive reaction to go to law school.” Instead, she helped found a magazine, Who Cares, for socially conscious young entrepreneurs. But her spiritual calling still beckoned, and she enrolled in the seminary. What was her family’s reaction to the news? “They were absolutely as supportive as you can imagine anyone being,” Breyer says, adding, “They were probably glad I had decided on something.” Her book makes clear that it was not an easy first year at the seminary, and she considered not returning. But a friar counseled her to consider her situation as a form of “voluntary poverty” akin to what God did when he became incarnate as Jesus. “Gradually I began to see that we seminarians are not simply learning a craft,” she wrote. “We are also being shaped as persons.” Breyer’s book also recounts her arrest last year in a civil disobedience protest against police brutality after the shooting death of Amadou Diallo. The unarmed West African immigrant was shot 41 times outside his New York apartment by several police officers. She thought long and hard about whether she wanted to be arrested, but decided it fit with what she had learned in seminary. “As I became more involved with the church, I came to believe that our Christian witness is most vigorous when we build up our communities and stand up for issues of social justice.” In the book, she also indicates she talked to her mother, Joanna, before deciding to get arrested in the protest. She wondered why there had not been protests in the previous mayor’s administration over school violence. Did Breyer consult her father beforehand, too? No, she answers in the interview. “He would not have done that. That was clear.” She and several other seminarians and Episcopal leaders did proceed to get themselves arrested in the plaza in front of police headquarters. She amusingly recounts her time in prison, escorted by a friendly police officer who introduced himself and said, “I’ll be your officer for the day.” In the end, she says now, she is not sure she did the right thing in getting arrested. Some of the news stories in New York the next day reported her arrest and mentioned her famous father. “It was very embarrassing,” she says. “There were a lot of Episcopal priests and bishops arrested, but the stories ended up being about my dad. The purpose of civil disobedience is not to draw attention to oneself but to the issue.” It was one of the rare times in her seminary life when her father’s notoriety made a difference. “I didn’t feel I was treated differently at all at the seminary,” she says, acknowledging that her name might have drawn a lot more attention “if I’d gone to law school.” Breyer says she is very happy now in her priestly life, and glad that her book is done. She analogizes her book to “One L,” the Scott Turow classic about the first year at law school. “There are a lot of ‘first year’ books out there,” she says. “I wanted to convey what the first year at seminary was like — the sacred and mundane.” She conveyed that eloquently, and in the process made it clear that she is a complex and fiercely independent person of substance, not just Chloe Breyer, daughter of a Supreme Court justice. FREE ADVICE Most federal appeals court judges who would like to tell the Supreme Court a thing or two about how it does its job don’t, preferring to stew in respectful silence. Jon Newman, senior judge on the U.S. Court Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, appears not to suffer from that inhibition. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her annual talk before the 2nd Circuit conference in June, made reference to two missives from Newman containing advice for the Supreme Court. In one letter, Ginsburg said that Newman pleaded for a “single, agreed-upon statement” of the holding of the Supreme Court, especially on those occasions when the justices have split off into partial concurrences and dissents. Those mix-and-match majorities often frustrate practitioners and lower court judges — not to mention reporters — who are trying to make sense of what the Court actually ruled. Newman’s second suggestion, according to Ginsburg, was for the Court in its decisions to refer to the parties before them by name, rather than as “petitioner” or “respondent.” Using those generic labels, Newman said, forces readers of Court opinions to constantly flip back and forth to the face of the decision to figure out who’s who. Asked about his letters and what response he might have gotten to them. Newman declined comment. “I have a feeling that if I write a justice, that is not a matter of public record,” Newman said. But a recent decision written by Judge Newman displays the kind of frustration about muddled Supreme Court opinion writing that probably triggered Newman’s complaint. In the Aug. 9 decision in Francis S. v. Stone, Newman had the unlucky chore of figuring out what the Supreme Court meant in its habeas corpus decision Terry Williams v. Taylor. Newman wrote:
The Supreme Court recently decided its first case involving a construction of section 2254(d)(1) (of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.). … The Court issued two opinions on the interpretation of section 2254(d)(1). The opinion of the Court on the statutory interpretation issue is by Justice O’Connor, writing Part II of her opinion, for herself, the Chief Justice, and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas. … Another view of section 2254(d)(1) is contained in an opinion by Justice Stevens, writing Part II of his opinion for himself and Justices Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer. Thus, the Court voted 5-4 to adopt Justice O’Connor’s interpretation of section 2254(d)(1). However, the opinion of the Court containing the application of section 2254(d)(1) to the state court decision at issue is Part IV of Justice Stevens’s opinion (for himself and Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer).

It got more complex from there. THOMAS TAKES THE FOURTH It would have been easy to miss in the flurry of final day decisions last term. But tucked into his June 28 opinion in the parochial school aid decision of Mitchell v. Helms was a subtle vote for Catholicism by Justice Clarence Thomas, himself a Catholic. One of the issues in the case was whether seemingly neutral forms of aid like books and computers could be “diverted” to religious use in parochial schools. In an amicus curiae brief in the case, Nathan Lewin of the District’s Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin sought to neutralize that issue by pointing out that almost everything could be diverted to religious use. School lunches, for example, could be used for religious indoctrination by blessing the bread, Lewin said — but that does not mean school lunch aid should be forbidden. “Nor must a literary classic be banned because a teacher may use it for a religiously related message,” Lewin continued. “If Shakespeare’s King Lear is utilized to teach the religious duty under the Fifth Commandment to honor one’s father, the classic text, admired for its secular worth, is not to be embargoed at all parochial schools.” Lewin’s brief was filed on behalf of the Avi Chai Foundation, which promotes Jewish day school education. Lewin’s point must have struck a chord with Thomas, because he used the same literary hypothetical in his opinion, though without citing the brief. Thomas wrote, “A teacher could, for example, easily use Shakespeare’s King Lear, even though set in pagan times, to illustrate the Fourth Commandment. See Exodus 20:12 (‘Honor your father and your mother.’)” But wait. The allusion to King Lear was the same, but the number of the commandment changed. Lewin’s Fifth Commandment somehow turned into Thomas’ Fourth Commandment. The answer to the mystery switch seems clear. Different faiths divide up the commandments from Exodus 20 differently. In the Jewish version of the Ten Commandments, followed by most Protestants, the “honor your father and your mother” command is counted as the Fifth Commandment. But Catholics don’t treat the bar against graven images of God as a separate commandment, so for them, the parental honor commandment comes Fourth.

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