Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wait Wait, Maybe They Should Have Booked Justice Scalia

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?

12 comments:

Octopus Grigori said...

Could I suggest that he may have been on to help peddle his book, Active Liberty (a la Doris Kearns Goodwin or Musharaff on the Daily Show)?

Breyer was kind of a dud on the show. I got the sense that he hadn't decided whether he was going to let loose or not. He seemed unhappy with the drug joke Carl Kassell made.

Stevens, Scalia, or Roberts would've been more fun, I think.

Orin said...

I believe Breyer's Scalia joke is one of his standard jokes when he speaks in public.

PG said...

Agreed with Orin -- I heard that joke at UVA Law three years ago. I hope that he's at least put a new variation on it now that he's no longer the most junior justice.

(Scalia is guilty of using tired jokes as well -- I'm sure all people who frequently speak publicly are.)

egarber said...

Breyer doesn't even own "Blizzard of OZ"? Man that's a classic :)

Speaking of Scalia, I saw that during oral arguments on the "bong hits for Jesus" case, in presumably defending the school he asked, "would it be ok if students wore buttons that said 'smoke pot -- it's fun'.?

Part of his point as I understand it was that officials should be able to regulate or ban "speech" contrary to the school's mission.

I wonder if Scalia would likewise defend a school's decision to outlaw buttons that read, "gay people are going to hell", amid a school's mission to say, foster diversity.

I may be wrong, but I don't sense neutrality from Scalia on sexual orientation. I keep coming back to his crying in the Lawrence case -- i.e., "look out, here comes gay marriage."

Michael C. Dorf said...

Good points all.
1) Yes, o octopus, Breyer may well have been promoting his book.

2) Yup, it's a standard line. I agree that the best use of a Justice's time is not to come up with new jokes.

3) Eric's point re anti-gay messages is interesting. Pending on cert around the same time as Bong Hits for Jesus was another 9th Cir case in which a student was disciplined for wearing an anti-gay t shirt. I recall there was a jurisdictional issue that made it a poor cert vehicle, but it would have been nice if the Court had taken the cases simultaneously, in part because that would have forced the Justices to think about the issues in general free speech terms rather than as drug issues.

Adam S. said...

455 F.3d 1052 is the citation to the denial of en banc in the 9th Cir. Poway case. Here is the citation to the scotus cert. treatment and the issue of the district court's entry of final judgment: 2007 WL 632768

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