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Stephen Breyer

Latest SCOTUS accident: Breyer falls off bike, breaks shoulder

He may not quite be the Funniest Justice, but the argument can be made that Justice Stephen G. Breyer is the most accident-prone member o f the U.S. Supreme Court.

Breyer broke his shoulder Friday in a fall off of his bicycle near the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington – his second serious biking accident in the last two years and his third overall.  He’s recovering from reverse shoulder replacement surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and is expected to be released early this week, according to the Supreme Court’s Public Information Office.

In 2011, Breyer broke his collarbone while bicycling near his home in Cambridge, Mass. Back in 1993, Breyer interviewed with then-President Bill Clinton for a Supreme Court post while still recovering from broken ribs and a punctured lung suffered when he was hit by a car while bicycling in the Bay State. Clinton nominated Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg instead, but Breyer got the nod from Clinton a year later.

Breyer has also suffered other unrelated misfortunes recently, including being robbed at machete-point in the Caribbean and having his Georgetown home burglarized in 2012.

Breyer is not the only justice to suffer accidental injuries. Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor suffered a broken ankle after taking a spill at an airport during her Senate confirmation process in 2009. And in 2011, DC Dicta spotted Sotomayor limping into the courtroom during oral arguments, propping her leg on a footrest behind the bench and occasionally wincing in pain. The court’s press office later confirmed to DC Dicta that the justice “was experiencing some knee/ligament discomfort,” although no cause was provided.

More recently, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fell at her home and suffered broken ribs last year. In 2009 Ginsburg suffered a bad reaction to medication and fell off her chair while aboard an airplane – a month after fainting in her chambers.

Mais oui! Breyer inducted into French academy

We already knew that Justice Stephen G. Breyer is perfectly comfortable speaking French. Now, he has a new reason to keep his foreign language skills sharp.

Monday Breyer was inducted as a foreign member of France’s Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, The New York Times reports. The academy is one of five of the Institut de France, and its membership is limited to 50 individual from France and only 12 from outside the country.

Breyer joins the likes of only a few Americans, including Thomas Jefferson, to get the nod from the organization. “The event is a recognition by a great institution of France of the institution to which I belong, the Supreme Court,” Justice Breyer said after the ceremony on Monday, the Times reported. “Our institutions flow from the enlightenment, and we’ve always seen our institutions working together.”


Breyer and Kennedy land on TMZ

Though Supreme Court justices are tasked with deciding the nation’s most consequential legal issues, they are also usually able to walk to streets incognito. Few Americans can identify members of the Court on sight or even name most of them. But perhaps that is changing, because last week Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen G. Breyer landed on TMZ, the gossip website that usually focuses on celebrities and reality stars.

As Breyer and Kennedy entered a congressional office building on their way to testify about the judiciary’s budget, a TMZ reporter asked a question inquiring minds apparently wanted to know: “Justice, do you ever watch ‘Judge Judy’ or ‘Judge Mathis’ sometimes?”

Kennedy ignored the reporter. Breyer simply shook his head. It’s unclear whether the head shake meant that Breyer does not watch the courtroom television shows, or if he simply was in disbelief.

The Funniest Justice, week 9: The joys of taxes and edamame

After asking several questions in a futile effort to calculate a foreign tax rate during oral arguments Wednesday in PPL Corp. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, an exasperated Justice Stephen G. Breyer gave up.

“All right. I have said enough,” Breyer said. “My law clerks would have picked this up. They would have written it down and I will be able to go back with the transcript to study it, which I will do.”

That comment earned Breyer one of his five laughs from this holiday-shortened oral argument week, making him this week’s Funniest Justice – and giving him a real shot at overtaking Justice Antonin G. Scalia in our term-long tally.

But it was Justice Elena Kagan who was the breakout comedian this week, earning a career-high four laughs. During oral arguments in the patent case Bowman v. Monsanto Co., she drew chuckles by speculating whether a 10-year-old could inadvertently infringe a soybean seed patent by growing plants from edamame.

When attorney Seth Waxman informed Kagan that edamame cannot produce soybean plants, Kagan responded: “And I thought I was being so clever, too.” More laughs.

Here are the latest standings:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 27

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 24

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.: 8

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 6

Justice Elena Kagan: 5

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 4

Justice Clarence Thomas: 1

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0


Breyer: Court’s no ‘junior varsity Congress’

Justice Stephen G. Breyer knows many people think of the Supreme Court as a “junior varsity Congress,” but that’s not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind, he said.

In a lecture yesterday at Boston University School of Law (DC Dicta’s alma mater, by the way), according to BU Today Breyer said the Founding Fathers, to place a check on the president’s broad executive power, created congressional lawmakers who “are very safe to rely on when something’s popular,” and judges who “do not have the power of the purse, and they do not have the power of the sword. Wonderful.”

Besides, Breyer said according to the AP:  “judges make terrible politicians.”

See the video of Breyer’s lecture here on BU’s website.

The Funniest Justice, week 6: International laughter

During oral arguments Wednesday in the case Chafin v. Chafin, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wanted to know whether a Scottish court, in determining someone’s habitual residence, would consider a U.S. court decision.

“I think they would pay attention to what other courts have said,” Breyer said. “Am I right or wrong? I want to know if I’m right or wrong.”

But instead of the arguing attorney giving him an answer, his colleague did.

“We have a brief in the case telling us that the question Justice Breyer is posing,” Ginsburg said. “They would say it’s irrelevant.”

“They would?” Breyer said.

“Justice Ginsburg, that is correct,” attorney Stephen Cullen finally said.

Well, thank for Justice Ginsburg’s answer,” Breyer replied. “She is very helpful.”

Breyer was the top laugh earner this week, adding three chuckles to his score in our ongoing tally of the term’s Funniest Justice. Justice Antonin G. Scalia earned two laughs to hold onto his solid lead in the race, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. made the crowd giggle once.

Here is the full tally for the term so far:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 12

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 8

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.: 5

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 3

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 3

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 0


First day, first laughs

After just one day of oral arguments in the Supreme Court’s new term, a justice is already on the board in our tally of the term’s Funniest Justice.

Just to recap, DC Dicta keeps a weekly count of how many times the justices of the Court get a laugh out of the crowd during oral arguments, as demonstrated on the Court’s transcripts.

The first to score? Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who got two laughs during yesterday’s argument in Lozman v. Riviera Beach.

Can he hold on to defeat three-time champion Justice Antonin G. Scalia? And as an added bonus, who will be the funniest oral advocate this year? Check back with DC Dicta each week through the end of the term to find out!

Justice Who?

Can you name these folks?

If Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., cares at all about being well known, we have good news and bad news for him.

The good news: he is the most well-known justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a new survey by FindLaw.com. The bad news, only 20 percent of Americans surveyed could name him.

Those surveyed had much more trouble naming the other eight justices of the Court. While 16 percent of those surveyed could name Justice Antonin G. Scalia or Justice Clarence Thomas, only 3 percent could name Justice Stephen G. Breyer, making him the least known justice.

Only 34 percent of those surveyed could name any justice, according to the study.A mere 1 percent could correctly name all nine justices.

Breyer robbed again

Poor Justice Stephen G. Breyer just can’t catch a break.

In the last year alone, Breyer suffered a broken collarbone in a bicycle accident, and he was robbed at machete point in his Carribean vacation home. Now comes news that Breyer’s Georgetown home was burglarized earlier this month.

The Washington Post reports that the robbers made off with silver valued at over $3,000. But fear not, a spokesperson for the Supreme Court said no Supreme Court-related documents were swiped.

For the latest Supreme Court news, see the Supreme Court Report on Lawyers USA online.