This past weekend, Justice Stephen Breyer was the guest on the "not my job" segment of Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me, the NPR weekly news quiz show (Click here for the show and then click on "not my job" to listen.) For those of you unfamiliar with the show, during this segment, accomplished people are asked ridiculous questions about subjects they don't know anything about. Breyer went 0 for 3 on questions about David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Ozzy Osbourne. Indeed, from his reactions to the questions, it appeared that Breyer had never heard of any of these people.
To his credit, Breyer showed good humor, mostly by just showing up, but he's clearly not ready for prime time. During the shmoozey part of the show, for example, Breyer gave his standard stump speech about how the Court decides hard cases and that while they often disagree, he has never heard a voice raised in anger. "The job is mostly reading and writing," he explained for no apparent reason.
Breyer's best line was actually his report of a quip by Justice Scalia. Breyer explained how, as the junior Justice for the dozen years before Justice Alito's appointment, it was his job to open the door when there was a knock during the conference. Once, he said, he opened the door to receive delivery of a cup of coffee for Justice Scalia, and brought it over. Scalia then said "well you have been doing this for a long time." Breyer replied, "yes, twelve years, I've gotten very good at it." To which Scalia jokingly replied, "no you haven't actually."
All in all, Justice Breyer acquitted himself reasonably well. He probably succeeded in humanizing the Court and projecting an image of good-natured earnestness, but I was left scratching my head about the point of his appearance. Perhaps the answer is to be found in the 1980s-era cartoons by Mark Alan Stamaty, featuring Congressman Bob Forehead, who, despite his political success, yearns to be a tv game show host. Who would have thought that Supreme Court Justices have similar ambitions?