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

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

By Amanda Caroline  •  September 23, 2022  •  17

Retired Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is warning his colleagues against “writing too rigidly” in their opinions, saying that such decisions could “bite you in the back” in a world that is constantly changing.

In a wide-ranging interview with CNN’s Chris Wallace on “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace,” which debuted Friday on HBOMax and airs Sunday night on CNN, Breyer also bemoaned his position in the court’s minority liberal bloc during his final year on the bench, addressed the court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade and spoke about the ongoing controversy regarding Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas.

Breyer said it was a “very frustrating” spot to be in as he found himself in dissent in a number of historically consequential cases where he said the majority side (conservatives – although the retired justice did not use that description) was unwilling to bend.

“You start writing too rigidly and you will see, the world will come around and bite you in the back,” Breyer said in his first televised interview since leaving the bench earlier this year. “Because you will find something you see just 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 we want to maintain insofar as we can – everybody does – certain key moral political values: democracy, human rights, equality, rule of law, etc. To try to do that in an ever-changing world. If you think you can do that by writing 16 computer programs – I just disagree.”

The comments from Breyer come days before the Supreme Court begins its first term without him in nearly 30 years. In the new term, the justices will consider issues including voting rights, immigration, affirmative action, environmental regulations and religious liberty – areas where the solid conservative majority can easily control the outcomes.

During his final term on the bench, Breyer frequently was in the minority in some of the court’s most headline-grabbing cases, including ones concerning abortion, gun rights and the environment. He told Wallace that being in the minority in those cases was “very frustrating,” but said that he took the losses in stride.

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Dobbs decision: ‘Was I happy about it? Not for an instant’

Breyer weighed in on the court’s controversial decision in June to reverse Roe v. Wade, growing visibly emotional as he discussed the historic abortion rights case.

“And you say did I like this Dobbs decision? Of course I didn’t. Of course I didn’t,” the retired justice said, his voice rising.

“Was I happy about it? Not for an instant. Did I do everything I could to persuade people? Of course, of course. But there we are and now we go on. We try to work together.”

Breyer also condemned the leak earlier this year of the draft opinion of the decision overturning Roe, saying the unprecedented breach of court protocol “was very damaging.”

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

“An earthquake?” Breyer responded. “It was very damaging because that kind of thing just doesn’t happen. It just doesn’t happen. And there we are.”

Other justices have also blasted the leak – including Justice Elena Kagan, who earlier this month called it “horrible” – and public opinion of the high court worsened after it occurred.

Chief Justice John Roberts ordered an internal investigation of the leak shortly after it occurred, and Kagan said recently that she expects justices to be given a status update on the probe by the end of September.