Nightly News | September 13, 2010
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We can't remember a sitting justice on the US Supreme Court ever stopping by our studios here, but it happened today. We spent some time with Justice Stephen Breyer , appointed by President Clinton and residing on the liberal side of the court . Justice Breyer is out with a new book today, it's about how the court works, including mistakes the court has made over the years. I started out by asking Justice Breyer , given his love of the Supreme Court , if he's concerned that just 1 percent of those Americans polled in a recent survey knew his name.
Justice STEPHEN BREYER: It's not a problem that people don't know my name. I don't think when I read some -- I read more people know the name of the Three Stooges than know the name of Supreme Court justices , that's all right. But if more people know the name of the Three Stooges than know that there are three branches of government , that's not all right. What people should know is know about the institution, that it exits and how it works and why it works the way it does. And that concerns them.
WILLIAMS: Do you think Bush v. Gore hurt the credibility of the modern court ?
Justice BREYER: Yes.
Justice BREYER: No.
WILLIAMS: For how long?
Justice BREYER: I don't know. That's up to historians. I thought that the decision -- I was in dissent. I obviously thought the majority was wrong. But I've heard Harry Reid -- I heard him say this, and I agree with it completely, he said the most remarkable thing about that case, Bush v. Gore , is something hardly anyone remarks. And that remarkable thing is, even though more than half the public strongly disagreed with it, thought it was really wrong, they followed it. And the alternative, using guns, having revolutions in the street, is a worse alternative.
WILLIAMS: To a new area, academic social elitism on the court . What would be your view of bringing in -- presidents appointing justices who went to a couple state law schools?
Justice BREYER: No problem.
WILLIAMS: Why hasn't it happened?
Justice BREYER: I'm not the appointing authority.
WILLIAMS: I agree. I -- you have no say.
Justice BREYER: I say -- I've said that many times.
WILLIAMS: Nor is it your fault.
Justice BREYER: I'm one of the few people -- it's like asking -- when you ask -- start talking about the appointment process, it's like asking for the recipe from chicken a la king from the point of view of the chicken. I was the appointed person. I'm not the appointing person. We -- I don't think any president would say that would be a terrible thing to bring people from state law schools. There have been all kinds of people from different law schools . People educate themselves in different ways, and other things being equal, the more diversity on the court , the more diverse life experiences, the better. I better know something about the people I'm going to affect and how would I say might affect them. And so a judge has to have a certain amount of what I would call imagination about how other people think and feel and what's likely to happen as a result of this decision. And having a diversity of experience on the court is helpful.
WILLIAMS: As you look at your colleagues on the court , the other eight, are you convinced they are trying to be the best citizens possible and the best stewards possible as the final arbiters for the laws that control our lives?
Justice BREYER: Are we the best citizens possible? None of us thinks that. We don't know that. There isn't one of us who doesn't think and know that he could have been somebody else who was appointed. And when you say trying, I believe that if you're with us and looking magically over our shoulder, you would say I was right to put in the word "trying" because they're trying. So you've set up a goal, and the best we can do in a human being is to try to live up to that goal, to try.
WILLIAMS: Justice Breyer wouldn't talk about any issue that might come before the court -- that includes the New York Islamic center controversy -- though we tried. And though he did say he's disturbed by allegations that the justices on the court are somehow politicians. We've posted much more of the interview. It's on our Web site , nightly.msnbc.com. When our Monday