From the Archives - Justice Stephen Breyer Reflects on the "Modern Great American" Lloyd Cutler

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May 21, 2019
by Stephen Breyer
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From the Archives - Justice Stephen Breyer Reflects on the "Modern Great American" Lloyd Cutler

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States pays tribute to Cutler Lloyd N. Cutler (1917–2005), considered by some as the last “superlawyer,” was a long-time champion of Salzburg Global Seminar

Lloyd N. Cutler (1917–2005), considered by some as the last “superlawyer,” was a long-time champion of Salzburg Global Seminar, serving as chair of its Board of Directors for a decade.

Believing passionately in the role that law plays in nation building, and in the ability of the law and legal experts to contribute solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges, Lloyd Cutler was able to attract to Salzburg Global high court judges from around the world. In addition, he was personally committed to ensuring that promising young international lawyers, academics and jurists had access at Salzburg Global to a rich variety of judicial traditions, international legal institutions and the international legal community at large.

Today, Salzburg Global remembers him not only for his intellectual brilliance, but for his commitment to advancing respect for the law as a tool for resolving the tough issues of our times.

Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, gave an address at the Memorial Service for Lloyd Cutler. We have published this address below.

I once said to Lloyd Cutler that he was not Herschel Bernardi. But who is Herschel Bernardi? That’s the point. Herschel Bernardi was a comedian who said that a career has four stages. Stage One: Who is Herschel Bernardi? Stage Two: Get me Herschel Bernardi. Stage Three: Get me someone like Herschel Bernardi. Stage Four: Who is Herschel Bernardi?

Lloyd’s Stage One ended, and Stage Two began, during World War II, when an intelligence expert, a friend of Lloyd’s, announced, “We need Cutler.” And off went Cutler to become a top code-breaker.

Lloyd’s brush with Stage Three was brief. President Clinton, after beginning to say, “Get me someone like Lloyd Cutler,” caught himself, said, “Get me Lloyd Cutler,” and persuaded Lloyd to become the only lawyer to undertake two separate tours of duty, serving President Carter and President Clinton, as White House Counsel.

As for Stage Four, it never happened.

Lloyd, my friend, my guide, my mentor… so many of us have silently spoken those words. Lloyd had an unusual ability to see potential in others and to help them develop talents they might not even know they had. Forty years ago I first heard about Lloyd Cutler from Don Turner, law professor, economist, Justice Department official. Lloyd had realized that Don, were he chief of the anti-trust division, could help reform anti-trust law, help it make economic sense. So Lloyd set to work; he encouraged Don; he talked to people; and, how typical, the appointment happened, and the law was reformed.

I recall Lloyd talking to young foreign civil rights leaders at Salzburg. The castle, the lake, the mountains, the restaurants, the music festival, all served as backdrop, not to the Sound of Music, but to hard work, teaching classes and the kind of exchanges that would eventually mean new constitutions, better law, in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Whose fine hand did we see organizing those meetings, guiding and encouraging the participants? The hand of our modern Max Reinhardt, or as he was then known in Austria, Herr Graf Cutler.

Commitment to improving institutions was another Cutler trademark. Lloyd, an inveterate problem solver, would persuade each side to understand the other and would devise reasonable, often imaginative, solutions. The list includes Presidential rule-making, a better Special Prosecutor, Government continuity in times of terrorism. And it goes on and on.

Lloyd was a legal builder. With John Pickering, he created from scratch one of the country’s greatest law firms. More than that. Lloyd understood that government had to work well in a democracy. And he did something about it. Commissions, boards, Presidents (several) were all the beneficiaries of Lloyd’s creative energies and his sound judgment. Lloyd was practical; he was wise; he was effective; he was everywhere.

Lloyd loved to organize: a brief, legal arguments, government institutions, social events, and, I must admit, sometimes other people too. He wanted it (whatever “it” might be) to work and to work well. As for people, he was deeply devoted to his family, Louise, his children of whom he was so proud, and Polly whom he adored and who gave him so much support. He loved watching basketball, baseball, football, movies, with his friends. He wanted his friends to be friends. He created a network, committed, as Cutler was, to using their own abilities to help others.

Cicero tells us that “it is our duty to honor and revere those whose lives are conspicuous for conduct in keeping with their high ethical standards and who, as true patriots, have rendered… efficient service to their country.” That, Lloyd, is our duty to you.

We who love our country and work in its service will miss our friend, our mentor, our guide, our inspiration. We will miss him, but we have not lost him. He remains with us, giving us advice, reminding us to take others’ views into account, helping us to exercise sound judgment, inspiring us to look for ways to make a practical difference, showing us that Homes did not express a vain hope when he said, “I wanted to prove to my father that a lawyer can be a great man.”

To the new generation of young men and women, of lawyers, of those who revere our institutions, we say, draw near. Reflect upon a life that, in this 216th Year of the Republic, provides convincing evidence that a man can have family, success, the highest of standards, all the while making a difference for the better, in public life.

Look upon a life characterized by that spirit of public service that distinguished the law at its best. Contemplate our friend Lloyd Cutler, the lawyer-statesman, the good citizen, the ancient Roman republican, the modern great American.