Breyer Praised as King of 'Hypotheticals Downright Silly'

He heard his last SCOTUS case Wednesday
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 27, 2022 1:37 PM CDT
Breyer Hears Final Case Before SCOTUS Retirement
Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, left, speaks with retiring Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer as they attend President Biden's State of the Union address, March 1, 2022.   (Saul Loeb, Pool via AP, File)

The fertile mind of Justice Stephen Breyer has conjured a stream of hypothetical questions through the years that have, in the words of a colleague, "befuddled" lawyers and justices alike. Breyer, 83, was at it once again Tuesday, inventing a prison inmate named John the Tigerman in a case involving transporting an inmate for a medical test. Breyer called him "the most dangerous prisoner they have ever discovered." The justice had one more chance Wednesday, the last of more than 2,000 arguments in which he has taken part during 28 years on the high court, the AP reports.

Just since Breyer announced in late January that he was retiring, he has asked lawyers to answer questions involving spiders, muskrats, and "4-foot-long cigars smoked through hookahs" —none of which, it's fair to say, had any actual links to the cases at hand. Breyer once granted an interview to the AP in which he acknowledged that his questions sometimes stretch the bounds of credulity. That’s by design. "The point is to try to focus on a matter that is worrying me. Sometimes it’s easier to do that with an example," he said in 2008. The Wednesday case was about Oklahoma's authority to prosecute people accused of crimes on Native American lands, following a 2020 Supreme Court decision.

Breyer asked some "sharp questions" and was praised by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts after arguments concluded, the Hill reports. "For 28 years, this has been his arena for remarks profound and moving, questions challenging and insightful, and hypotheticals downright silly," Roberts said. "For now, we leave the courtroom with deep appreciation for the privilege of sharing this bench with him." Breyer will remain on the court as it deliberates outstanding cases and issues opinions until its current term finishes in late June or early July, Forbes notes. (More Stephen Breyer stories.)

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