Breyer at USC

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer delivers the commencement address at the University of South Carolina's December graduation ceremony on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. Staff/Jamie Lovegrove

COLUMBIA — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is no fan of Bush v. Gore.

One of four justices to dissent from the extraordinary decision that resolved the contested 2000 presidential election, Breyer still believes the consequential ruling was issued on dubious legal grounds.

Despite his dissatisfaction with the result, Breyer told University of South Carolina graduates Monday that he was heartened soon after when he saw Harry Reid, then the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate, say he would follow the ruling.

"No riots, no rocks thrown in the streets, no guns," Breyer said. "They followed it."

In an unscripted 16-minute commencement address to 2,900 graduates from across the USC system's eight campuses, Breyer said decisions like Reid's in that heated 2000 moment are what allow the U.S. Constitution to endure 230 years after it was written.

To ensure that stability continues, Breyer said, graduates will need to devote some time in their post-collegiate life to giving back to their communities.

"I hope you find someone to love. I hope you have a job that you find important. And I hope you will spend a decent amount of your time — not all of your time, but some of your time — working for the community in public life," Breyer said.

Breyer marked the third Supreme Court justice to speak in South Carolina this year. On the same day in September, Justice Samuel Alito headlined the grand opening of USC's new law school building, while Justice Sonia Sotomayor talked to students 135 miles away at Clemson University.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt, a USC alumnus and 2009 inductee into the South Carolina Aviation Hall of Fame, also received an honorary doctor of science degree.

Not all of the distinguished attendees at Monday's commencement were seated on stage.

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Among those graduating was Kyle Carpenter, the youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor.

A medically retired U.S. Marine corporal, Carpenter was awarded the military's highest honor by President Barack Obama in 2014 for attempting to shield a fellow Marine from a grenade blast while serving in Afghanistan.

Carpenter, 28, received a standing ovation as USC President Harris Pastides noted that he is the first Medal of Honor recipient to graduate from the school since World War I veteran Richmond Hilton, Class of 1924.

Among the many prestigious awards Carpenter has received since returning from war, he told reporters after the ceremony that the bachelor's degree in international studies from USC stacks up with the best of them.

"Having been to Afghanistan and other places in the world where I've seen people who have no idea what an education is and no hope of ever receiving one," Carpenter said, "to not only receive a degree but to receive a degree from such an amazing institution with such amazing people. ... I'm just so thankful and appreciative for it."

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.