Born in 1938 in northern California, Breyer attended a well-known magnet public high school in San Francisco. He went on to Stanford for his undergraduate studies and won a Marshall Scholarship to attend Oxford. Breyer then studied law at Harvard where he was editor of the law review.
Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg selected Breyer to clerk for him during the 1964 term, during which Breyer helped to draft an important privacy rights opinion. In succeeding years, he worked for the assistant U.S. attorney general for antitrust, served as a prosecutor in the Watergate Special Prosecution Force in 1973 and taught law and government at Harvard until 1994.
In 1974, Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy named Breyer to be special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee; Breyer became the committee's chief counsel five years later.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Breyer to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, where Breyer became chief judge in 1990.
He also served as a member of the U.S. Judicial Conference from 1990 to 1994 and the influential Sentencing Commission from 1985 to 1989, which sets sentencing guidelines for the country's judges.
His work in these various positions earned him praise for his detailed and thorough work, particularly on the sentencing framework.
President Clinton nominated Breyer for the Supreme Court in 1994 when Justice Harry Blackmun retired. He was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 87 to 9 and was sworn into office on Aug. 3, 1994.
The newly sworn in Justice Breyer wasted no time making his mark on the high court by participating in the questioning of his first oral argument and writing a dissent against the first opinion the court issued with him on the bench. While on the Supreme Court, he has tended to vote in line with the liberal-leaning bloc of Justices Ginsburg, Souter and Stevens.
Breyer and his wife Joanna have three children.