Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker, Stephen Breyer, Supreme Court, Survivor

ATL to Justice Breyer: “What Kind of Tree Would You Be?”

stephen breyer stephen g breyer jeffrey toobin jeff toobin.JPGActually, no, we didn’t ask him that. But the question we did pose was just about as goofy. It felt sort of like Punk’d: Supreme Court Edition.
First, some background. As previously discussed, this past weekend we attended Jeffrey Toobin’s interview of Justice Stephen G. Breyer, part of the New Yorker Festival. It was an interesting talk, even if it may not have met our (perhaps unrealistic) expectations.
We may write even more about the interview later (because it did go on for about an hour and a half). For now, though, we’ll share with you what happened when we got up during the Q-and-A session and posed a question to Justice Stephen Breyer.
Check it out, after the jump.

(The following account is from memory, and it may contain errors; we don’t have a transcript or video or audio recordings.)
We were about third in the line of questioners. When our turn came, we approached the mike, lowered it (’cause we’re short), and introduced ourselves.

ATL: Hello, Justice Breyer. My name is David Lat, and I used to write a judicial gossip blog called Underneath Their Robes. I now write for a site called — so there’s my plug.

[Laughter and scattered applause througout the room. Thanks, guys! But Justice Breyer grimaces — and you can see it from the back of the cavernous room.]

Jeff Toobin (reassuringly, after seeing SGB frown): It’s okay, I’ve actually written about David. We’re all friends here.

ATL: My question today is a hypothetical, because I know how much you justices like hypotheticals.

[Justice Breyer interjects and talks about how everybody complains that the hypos he gives from the bench are too long and convoluted: “Guess it’s the law professor in me!” It’s a cute digression.]

ATL: So here’s my hypothetical. A third of the Supreme Court is banished to a desert island — as some members of Congress have called for. You’re one of the banishees. Which two other justices would you want to have on the island?

[Laughter and applause from the audience. But Justice Breyer looks uncomfortable.]

ATL (sensing SGB’s fear of being impolitic): Of course, Justice Breyer, it goes without saying that you think all eight of your colleagues are peachy. It’s just a matter of which two you’d want with you on a desert island.

After a pause, Justice Breyer starts talking about his pre-law school days as a philosophy student. He starts telling a story about some workers on a roof, installing green roof tiles. Nobody knows quite where he’s going with it.
It’s a long and rambling story. And because it’s so long, the expectation in the room is building… and building. People are expecting an uproarious punchline, one that will bring the marble slabs on the walls of the Celeste Bartos Forum crashing down. We are standing at the microphone, listening politely, hands clasped.
But then Justice Breyer ends the story thusly: “And so the worker says, ‘I don’t know what I would say.'”
Justice Breyer stops. The audience is unsure if he’s done, since the eagerly anticipated punchline is actually just one big dodge. To signify that he’s finished speaking, Justice Breyer shrugs his shoulders, half-apologetically.
The disappointment in the room is palpable. Justice Breyer, you’re such a gavel-tease!
So you can’t say we didn’t try. We gave Justice Breyer an opportunity to be witty; he just didn’t come through for us. And don’t blame it on our question, which CAN be answered cleverly. Check out our interview with the fabulous Ninth Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw (click here, scroll down to question 18).
Earlier: A Bit More On Justice Breyer, and Judicial “Rock Stars”
A Quick Take on Justice Breyer’s Talk
The New Yorker Festival: “My Name Is SGB, Yeah You Know Me”

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