A History of Supreme Court Clumsiness

Justice Stephen Breyer's weekend bike crash reminds us of his colleagues' lack of grace

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Today, the news came out that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer broke his collarbone in a bicycle crash in Cambridge while he was home for Memorial Day. No information has come out on what, exactly, caused the crash (his second), but the injury is reportedly minor. It didn't even keep him from a speaking gig in New York last night. But the mishap reminds us of other minor injuries and collisions and leads to the conclusion that this is one of the clumsiest courts on record.

  • In March, Justice Antonin Scalia got a ticket for causing a four-car collision as he was driving to court in morning rush-hour traffic on the George Washington Parkway. The justice wasn't hurt, but a court spokesman joked with the Los Angeles Times that "he probably hasn't a clue how to protest a traffic ticket."
  • Back in June 2009, then-nominee Sonia Sotomayor broke her ankle when she tripped while rushing to catch a flight at New York's LaGuardia airport. She's tough, though. According to the Washington Post, "she boarded her plane despite the injury and traveled to the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House before determining that she needed treatment."
  • In 1993, Breyer was in another bicycle crash in Cambridge, this time much more serious. He broke some ribs and punctured his lung, but still managed a meeting with Bill Clinton a week later and, eventually, gained his seat on the bench.
  • Also in 1993, Clarence Thomas tore his achilles tendon in a pickup basketball game with his clerks on the Supreme Court's ball court, known as the "highest court in the land." He had to have surgery and spent two nights in Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Of course, Supreme Court justices aren't the only Washington power players falling off bikes or rupturing tendons on the court. George W. Bush famously fell off his mountain bike at least twice, and his one-time presidential opponent Al Gore tore his Achilles in a basketball game in 1994, when he was still vice president. But there's something especially comical about Supreme Court justices taking pratfalls. Probably because they're hard to picture without the robes.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.