Stephen Breyer warns judges that some opinions could ‘bite you in the back’ in exclusive interview with CNN’s Chris Wallace


In an extensive interview with CNN’s Chris Wallace on “Who Talks to Chris Wallace,” which debuted Friday on HBOMax and aired Sunday night on CNN, Breyer also lamented his standing in the court’s minority liberal bloc during his last year on the bench, addressed the in-court reversal of Roe v. Wade and spoke about the ongoing controversy regarding Ginni Thomas, the wife of Judge Clarence Thomas.

Breyer said it was a “very frustrating” place as he found himself on the dissent in a number of historically significant cases where he said the majority (the conservatives – although the retired judge won’t did not use this description) was unwilling to bend .

“You start writing too rigidly and you’ll see, the world will come and bite you in the back,” Breyer said in his first TV interview since coming off the bench earlier this year. “Because you’ll find that something you see just doesn’t work at all. And the Supreme Court, somewhat unlike others, has that kind of problem in spades.”

“Life is complex, life changes,” Breyer added. “And we want to uphold as much as we can – everyone does – certain key moral political values: democracy, human rights, equality, rule of law, etc. To try to do that in an ever-changing world. If you think you can do it by writing 16 computer programs – I just disagree.”

Breyer’s comments come days before the Supreme Court begins its first term without him in nearly 30 years. In the new term, the justices will consider issues such as voting rights, immigration, affirmative action, environmental regulations and religious freedom – areas where the strong conservative majority can easily control the results.

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During his last term on the bench, Breyer was often outvoted in some of the court’s most high-profile cases, including those involving abortion, gun rights and the environment. He told Wallace that being in the minority in those cases was “very frustrating,” but said he took the losses with ease.

Dobbs decision: “Was I happy about it? Not for a moment

Breyer weighed in on the court’s controversial decision in June to overturn Roe v Wade, becoming visibly emotional as he discussed the landmark abortion rights case.

“And you said I liked that Dobbs decision? Of course not. Of course not,” the retired judge said, his voice rising.

“Was I happy about it? Not for a moment. Did I do everything I could to convince people? Of course, of course. But here we are and now we’re continuing. We’re trying to work together.”

Breyer also condemned the leak earlier this year of the draft notice of the ruling overturning Roe, saying the unprecedented breach of court protocol “was very damaging.”

“Was there an earthquake inside the court? Wallace asked.

“An earthquake?” Breyer replied “It was very damaging because that kind of thing just doesn’t happen. It just doesn’t happen. And here we are.”

Other judges also blasted the leak – including Judge Elena Kagan, who earlier this month called it “horrible” – and public opinion in the High Court soured after it happened.

Chief Justice John Roberts ordered an internal investigation into the leak shortly after it happened, and Kagan recently said she expects judges to receive an update on the status. of the survey by the end of September.

Ginni Thomas controversy

Breyer was careful during his interview not to get into the drama surrounding the political activity of Ginni Thomas, whose support for efforts to overturn former President Donald Trump’s electoral defeat has been the subject of a scrutiny given her husband’s involvement in a case that was before the Supreme Court regarding the January 6 House inquiry.

Asked if he thought Ginni Thomas’ political activity was damaging to the reputation of the court, Breyer replied: “I don’t cross that insofar as I strongly believe that women who are wives, including the wives of Supreme Court Justices, must make the decisions about how to conduct their lives, their careers, what kind of careers, etc., for themselves.”

He added: “I’m not going to criticize Ginni Thomas, who I love. I’m not going to criticize Clarence, who I love. And here we are.”

Judicial collegiality and retirement

Reflecting on his nearly three decades on the Supreme Court, Breyer tiptoed the idea that relations between conservative and liberal justices soured as they approached retirement, conceding that “sometimes” he seemed like there were two separate camps on the bench.

“Less than you think. Less than you think…but I can’t say never,” he said.

Breyer said the court, which has long been known for its collegiality, has changed some lately, using the “nice” conversations that usually take place between judges over lunch after deliberating on a case as an example of the change. .
Supreme Court justices insist all is well, but their caustic written opinions say otherwise

“Maybe a little less cheerful, but I don’t mean – I didn’t hear people in that conference room yelling at each other in anger,” he said.

“What you do is what I learned from (Judge) Arthur Goldberg when I was his clerk, and I tried to live up to it. And I also learned it from the senator ( Ted) Kennedy, when I worked for him,” Breyer said. “You do your best, you know, and maybe people will agree. And maybe they don’t. And maybe you will win. And maybe you will lose. And then what you do is you think about it for a while. ”

“Move on to the next thing, so you can do a decent job on the next thing,” he added. “And keep it up.”

Breyer, who announced his retirement plans under pressure from liberals who wanted him out of court when Democrats controlled the Senate and President Joe Biden was in power, said he decided to leave now because that he feared Republicans would take over the House, he could be forced to sit on the bench for years as the GOP blocks the presidential nominee.

“There have been delays, you know, when the party is torn between controlling the Senate and controlling the presidency,” Breyer said. “And sometimes times pass and I would rather my own retirement, my own court membership, not get involved in what I call these purely political matters.”

Vogue’s Ariane and CNN’s Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.


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