“”Breyer v. Colbert: A comedian, a U.S. Supreme Court justice, and a missed opportunity.”

Matt Ford in the Atlantic:

Journalistic interviews with the justices are increasingly common and often good,but rarely great; New York magazine’s 2013 conversation with Antonin Scalia is adelightful exception. All nine of them speak often in public, although their audiences are usually law schools, state bar associations, judicial conferences, or similar law-related organizations. Some justices occasionally make unconventional appearances, like Sonia Sotomayor’s visits to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Sesame Street. But lawyers talking to lawyers is the norm.

That could change, however. UC Irvine law professor Rick Hasen provided some interesting data about their public appearances in a recent study. All of the current justices have been more public than their predecessors, save for Justice Arthur Goldberg, who spoke frequently about anti-Semitism during the 1960s. Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg tend to receive more press for their remarks, but Breyer actually holds the record for the most public appearances by a justice since 1964.

Are these public appearances good for the Court? Judge Richard Posner, a popular federal appellate judge in the Seventh Circuit, disapproves of what he calls the justices’ “public intellectual” activities. At the same time, he doesn’t see them as a threat to the Court’s legitimacy, since institutional support for the Court remains relatively high. Besides, he adds, few Americans can even identify individual justices. Colbert also observed before his chat with the justice that 3 percent of Americans know who Breyer is. The rest, he joked, confuse him with Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, with whom the justice shares a vague resemblance.


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