WALLACE: Let's start with the title of your book, "Active Liberty." I'm sure that there are some conservatives out there who break out in hives when they hear a judge talking about activism. They get the idea you think it's OK to read all sorts of things into the Constitution so you get the results you want.
BREYER: I think the best description in one sentence of that title, "Active Liberty," is that the point of the book is we don't need activist judges; we do need activist citizens. And it's about not how judges should be activists. To the contrary, it's about how every citizen should participate in government.
WALLACE: But let's talk about that. Because in your book, you say that judges have various tools when they decide a case. And more important even than the language of the law, you say, are the purpose of the provision and the consequences of deciding it one way or another.
I want to put up a quote from your book and take a look at it, if you will. Here it is: "Since law is connected to life, judges, in applying a text in light of its purpose, should look to consequences including contemporary conditions, social, industrial and political, of the community to be affected."
Justice Breyer, when a judge takes it upon himself to interpret what purpose the founders, the framers meant when they put something in the Constitution, doesn't that allow them, a judge, to do almost anything?
BREYER: No, I think it's the contrary.
You see, it takes place in a context. I think whether you are a judge on my court or whether you are a judge on a court of appeals or any court, and lawyers too — and if you're interested in law yourself, you'll be in the same situation — you have a text that isn't clear.
If the text is clear, you follow the text. If the text isn't clear, you have to work out what it means. And that requires context.
The freedom of speech. Do you know what it means? Basically. But you don't know its entire content, and it doesn't tell you itself. Those words, "the freedom of speech," "Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech." Neither they, the founders, nor those words tell you how to apply it to the Internet.
So what can you use in a tough case to figure out how the First Amendment applies to cable television and requirements that cable carry over-the-air stations? How do you do it?