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


Retired Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer warns his colleagues to write “too rigidly” in their opinions, saying such decisions can “bite you in the back” in a world that is constantly changing.

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

Breyer said it was a “very frustrating” place to be in, as he disagreed on a number of historically consistent cases where he said the majority side (conservatives — though the retired justice didn’t use that description) was unwilling to bow. .

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“You’ll start writing too rigidly and you’ll see the world come around you and bite you in the back,” Breyer said in his first televised interview since leaving the couch earlier this year. “Because you’ll find something that doesn’t work at all. And the Supreme Court, somewhat to the difference of others, has that kind of problem in spades.”

“Life is complex, life changes,” Breyer added. “And as far as we can – everyone does – we want to preserve certain key moral political values: democracy, human rights, equality, rule of law, etc. to try and do that in an ever-changing world. If you think you can do that by writing 16 computer programs, I just don’t agree.”

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

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During his last tenure on the bench, Breyer was often outnumbered in some of the most pending court cases, including those over abortion, gun rights and the environment. He told Wallace it was “very frustrating” to be outnumbered in those cases, but he said he took the losses to heart.

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

“And you said did I like this Dobbs decision? Of course I didn’t. Of course not,’ said the retired judge, raising his voice.

“Was I happy with it? Not a moment. Have I done everything I can to convince people? Of course of course. But there we are and now we move on. We try to work together.”

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Breyer also condemned the leak earlier this year of the draft opinion of the decision quashing Roe, saying the unprecedented violation of the court’s protocol was “extremely damaging.”


“Was there an earthquake in the court?” asked Wallace.

“An earthquake?” Breyer responded. “It was very damaging because things like that just don’t happen. It just doesn’t happen. And there we are.”

Other judges have also inflated the leak — including Judge Elena Kagan, who called it “horrible” earlier this month — and public opinion in the Supreme Court deteriorated after it occurred.

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

During his interview, Breyer was careful not to get caught up in the drama surrounding the political activity of Ginni Thomas, whose support for efforts to reverse the electoral defeat of former President Donald Trump has come under scrutiny given her husband’s participation in a case that was before the Supreme Court over the Jan. 6 House investigation.

Asked if he thought Ginni Thomas’s political activity was detrimental to the court’s standing, Breyer replied: “I’m not going through that because I strongly believe that women who are wives, including wives of judges of the Supreme Court, the decisions about how they want to live their life, career, what kind of career, etc. for themselves.”

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

Reflecting on his nearly three decades on the Supreme Court, Breyer tiptoed about the idea that relations between conservative and liberal judges have deteriorated as he retired, admitting that it “sometimes” seemed like there were two separate camps on the line. were couches.

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

Breyer said the court, long known for its collegiality, has made some changes of late, using the “pleasant” conversations that usually take place between judges over lunch after deliberating a case as an example of the shift.

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

“What you’re doing is what I learned from (Justice) Arthur Goldberg when I was his clerk, and I’ve tried to live up to it. And I also learned it from Senator (Ted) Kennedy when I worked for him,” Breyer said. “You’re doing your best, you know, and maybe people will agree. And maybe not. And you might win. And you might lose. And then you think about it for a while.”

“Move on to the next so you can do the next thing right,” he added. “And just keep going.”

Breyer, who announced his retirement plans amid pressure from liberals who wanted him to leave the court while Democrats controlled the Senate and President Joe Biden was in office, said he decided to leave now because he was concerned if Republicans took over the room, he said. might be forced to sit on the bench for years while the GOP blocked the presidential candidate.

“There have been delays, you know, when the party is split between control of the Senate and control of the presidency,” Breyer said. “And sometimes long times go by and I’d rather my own retirement, my own membership of the court, not get involved in what I call those purely political issues.”

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