Justice Stephen Breyer Champions Art, Restaurants, Advice

The Supreme Court justice says art is important in public buildings.

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By Nikki Schwab, Washington Whispers

Sure, he's known for being serious to the point of boring, but when you get Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer talking about public art and architecture, he gets downright giddy. "One of the great things about public architecture is that Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a law—don't tell anybody this, they might try and take it away—that said one half of 1 percent of every public building's construction budget will be spent on art," Breyer told a National Gallery of Art audience today. "So we have to do that."

Breyer was instrumental in bringing a cool design and colorful artwork to the construction of the federal courthouse in Boston, where he served as a judge before he joined the high court. "So the people who wander there are not totally dismal, even if their case is hopeless," he says.

For his efforts, he was presented with an award last night at the State Department by the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Breyer is not interested just in making public buildings architecturally and artistically pleasing. He has plenty of ideas to make them real, usable, public spaces, too. "Every federal courthouse could have something called a citizens advice bureau," he suggests. "Not necessarily legal advice—'What's your problem?' 'Maybe you ought to see a doctor, I don't know,' " he joked. He thinks that serving tasty food helps, too. "It's important to have a good restaurant in a building."

He couldn't name a prominent building that needs improvements in Washington. "I'm sure there are, but I'm not the architect," he tells Whispers. But he does have a fave public space in town. "One of the very good ones to look at is the Reading Room in the Library of Congress," he says.

Justice Stephen Breyer (right) shows off the Leonore and Walter Annenberg Award for Diplomacy Through the Arts with artist Ellsworth Kelly at the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies annual dinner at the State Department.

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