Breyer Goes on Late Show to Pitch New Book, Yell at Colbert

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 15, 2015 2:11 PM

Justice Breyer's new book The Court and the World comes out today. In it, he argues for one of his longstanding passions -- greater engagement between the American judicial system and the rest of the world. He brought that message to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert yesterday -- a rare cross-over into pop-culture for one of the Justices.

During his appearance, Justice Breyer discussed more than just his book, surveying the advice he was given when first joining the court, arguing against cameras in the High Court, and reminding Colbert that no, watching the Justices is not entertaining. Here are some highlights.

The Court, the World, and Late Night T.V.

Justice Breyer doesn't generate the sort of fandom and attention often given to his colleagues such as Ruther Bader Ginsburg or Antonin Scalia. In fact, a FindLaw survey found that only three percent of the general public can correctly identify him, a point Colbert brought up in his intro. (Thanks for the Colbert bump, Stephen!) But, despite Justice Breyer's professorial, perhaps grandfatherly demeanor, he's having quite the year, authoring important opinions and now a new book.

Still, late night T.V. is a rare place to see a Supreme Court Justice. (Justice Ginsburg famously nodded off during the State of the Union once, but luckily for the early-to-bed, early-to-rise Justices, The Late Show is shot midday.) Justice Breyer was there to promote The Court and the World. His new book is largely a "methodical and dispassionate discussion of cases in which justices across the ideological spectrum have considered foreign practices and materials in their opinions," according to The New York Times. Perhaps that dry material is why the book when almost unmentioned during his Late Show appearance.

Some Confidence, No Camera, and a Bit of Yelling

Instead, Justice Breyer spoke freely about what it's like to be a Supreme Court Justice. The job security is appealing, he notes, as he was raised by his father to "stay on the payroll." He also acknowledged that it takes awhile to gain confidence as a Justice. During the first three to five years, he told Colbert, "you may look very confident but that isn't how you're feeling. It takes a period of time." That message, Justice Breyer said, has been passed down from Douglass to Souter to him.

Breyer also got into a bit of a debate about cameras in the Court. "Why can't we watch you if the Supreme Court repeatedly rules that we can be watched by the government?" Colbert asked. Acknowledging there were good arguments on each side, Breyer emphasized the risk that cameras could bring, particularly in distorting the importance of oral arguments. Oral arguments account for only five percent of the basis for deciding a case, he said.

And then there was the yelling. Asked about this relationships with the other Justices, Breyer said, "I have never heard a voice raised in anger; I have never heard one member of our Court say something insulting about another." Raising his voice, he continued: "the discussion is professional, it is serious and it is not personal. And we are good friends despite the fact that we agree some of the time and we disagree others of the time."

"You know you're yelling at me right now," Colbert said, ending the interview to laughs.

If you missed the broadcast, you can watch the whole interview on The Late Show's YouTube page.

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