The President's ability to influence through judicial appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court is grossly overestimated, says Associate Justice Stephen Breyer. 

Breyer made his observation five months before President Obama nominated judicial moderate Merrick Garland to fill the seat occupied by the late Antonin Scalia, an arch conservative. 

Having served now on the Supreme Court for more than twenty years, Breyer has written and lectured widely on the role of the court in society and politics. He was speaking in Cambridge before a Harvard Book Store audience gathered to hear him discuss his latest book, The Court And The World.

When asked specifically why the nomination process has become so partisan, he answered that it doesn't matter, since politics don't factor into the deliberation process. While his colleagues may embrace a variety of philosophies, Breyer says he trusts each of them to put aside their political views and follow the law.

Scalia’s legal philosophy was the polar opposite of Breyer. Appointed by Bill Clinton in 1994, Breyer approaches decisions as a pragmatist, trying to apply the purpose of the law while considering precedent, history and tradition in his decisions. While he may have disagreed in principle with Scalia, he described the weight of responsibility to get the decision right as much more compelling than being praised for a popular choice. 

» Watch Breyer's entire conversation with David Gergen of Harvard's Kennedy School on WGBH's Forum Network 

“We have more at stake…than many in trying to get this complicated system of laws working towards a solution of these terrible problems…environment, security, business and so forth. …We are a very motley, diverse group of people and what holds us together as a nation is the totally non-tribal fact that we have this system, embodied in [the Constitution]. I see in front of me every day people of every race, every religion, every conceivable point of view and there they are having decided to resolve their differences in courts of Law, and that’s a fabulous thing. It’s part of who we are.”

The U.S. Senate will decide Garland's fate. Republicans have vowed to block appointing anyone until a new President is elected.