Justice Breyer lauds lawyers’ public service, wishes MBA ‘happy birthday

Issue June 2011 By Bill Archambeault

In his keynote speech at the Massachusetts Bar Association's Centennial Ball, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer celebrated the crucial role that lawyers play in shaping laws, fighting for the judiciary and educating and mentoring students.

MBA President Denise Squillante welcomed an audience of nearly 1,000 people in the Sheraton Boston ballroom for the Centennial Ball. Breyer's keynote address on May 19 was the highlight of the two-day Centennial Conference.

"To lead the MBA through its centennial year has been remarkable. I've enjoyed tremendously being at the helm of this influential organization as it celebrates its hundredth anniversary," Squillante said. "Tonight, we celebrate the MBA's rich heritage and look to its promising future. I welcome the opportunity to work with many of you to begin its next century of service to the public, the profession and the rule of law."

MBA Past President Michael E. Mone (1993-94), a civil litigation trial attorney with Esdaile, Barrett & Esdaile, introduced Breyer: "He does us a great honor being here tonight. He is a great scholar."

Breyer, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1994 after serving as chief justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals, touched upon the MBA's history. While practicing law is not as simple as it used to be, Breyer noted that the MBA has remained true to its founding principles.

"It isn't surprising to me that the Massachusetts Bar Association holds the position of respect that it does," he said. Looking back to the start of the MBA, Breyer noted, "This organization was founded by Holmes and Brandeis. And it was racially integrated from the start."

He rattled off a number of the association's historical responsibilities - including public service, defending the judiciary and nurturing students' civic knowledge - noting that a century later, it's "the same job, but tougher now."

He also talked about the importance of the U.S. Constitution, but also about how important it is in the way it's used to reach landmark rulings like 1954's Brown v. Board of Education, and then in the way it was used in 1957 to physically escort black students into a Little Rock, Ark. high school safely.

"That was a great day: A great day for the law, a great day for equality, and a great day for the United States of America," Breyer said, adding that "No law is any better than the will of the people to enforce it."

Breyer said he was impressed by the turnout, saying that seeing so many lawyers turn out reflects well on the profession and the important work lawyers are called upon to do, particularly in terms of public service.

He ended on a rousing note in honor of the event's milestone: "The only five words I really want to say are 'happy birthday, Massachusetts Bar Association!'"