U.S. Supreme Court justices don’t typically appear on late-night TV, so Justice Stephen Breyer’s visit to the Late Show with Stephen Colbert could have been something special. Instead, it felt like a missed opportunity.
Breyer, fresh off one of the Supreme Court’s most historic terms in decades, received second billing to Emily Blunt, who promoted her upcoming action film. The justice’s slow, measured tone didn’t really gel with Colbert’s bantering interviewing style. Breyer didn’t get a chance to discuss his new book, which ponders the Supreme Court’s evolving (and controversial) relationship with foreign legal thinking. Questions about jurisprudence or recent decisions were neither asked nor answered. But Breyer had a chance to give a convincing argument against cameras in the courtroom, and he emphatically defended the Court’s collegiality from Colbert’s hints of acrimony.
Journalistic interviews with the justices are increasingly common and often good, but rarely great; New York magazine’s 2013 conversation with Antonin Scalia is a delightful 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.