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Compelling Constitutional Conversations


Historic U.S. Polarization– Take a Page From This Justice's Playbook

Aug 18, 2017

-by Jennifer Conway

We at The American Law Journal have addressed why our nation seems to be so divided— take a look at our Emmy-nominated feature report and program on toxic Gerrymandering for an initial clue. The Pew Research Center gives its reasons why we are divided and Justice Breyer suggests what we can each, individually, do about it— take a page from the Supreme Court’s deliberations on deeply divisive issues.

How do U.S. Supreme Court Justices debate contentious topics in which they strongly disagree? Justice Stephen Breyer answers this question at a National Constitution Center lecture. He offers timely advice that is more relevant in today’s increasingly polarized America.

“Do we shout at each other? No, we don’t shout at each other. I’ve been there for 20 years and I have never heard one justice raise his voice and shout at another. It’s civil, polite and professional, even though we might strongly disagree.”

Breyer continues with his Two Rules for Solving Conflict:

“Two rules:

  1. Don’t speak twice until everybody has spoken once.
  2. Stay calm and listen. Respond to what the other person has said.

You would be surprised how often you can work things out.”

And why is America so divided, politically? 

According to the Pew Research Center, there are 5 reasons for this

  1. Democrats are leaning more extreme liberal and Republicans are leaning more extreme conservative.
  2. Increasing disapproval and criticism of presidents of the opposing party.
  3. Demographics between the Democratic and Republican parties have never been more different. Over the last 25 years, Democrats have become less white, less religious and better-educated at a faster rate than the Republican party. While Republicans are aging at a faster rate. 
  4. Increasing dissatisfaction with life. Eighty-one percent (81%) of Trump voters believe their life is worse than 50 years ago, while only eleven (11%) of Clinton voters believed their life is worse.
  5. Neither party expect political division to decrease, while most believe it will get worse. Each side believes the other is a threat to the nation.


Regardless of the why’s, Breyer’s message rings true— as evidenced by twenty years of civil discourse among Supreme Court justices— even when the issues could have been bitterly polarizing.


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