Stephen v. Stephen: Rookie Late Show host Stephen Colbert presses Justice Stephen Breyer on cameras in the Supreme Court

Stephen Colbert has seamlessly taken the baton from longtime host David Letterman in his first days on the Late Show. In the infancy of his late night comedy career, Colbert has transitioned from a charactercher on the The Daily Show to a more serious interviewer on the late night stage.

Colbert hosted a mix of expected guests in his first seven shows, including actor George Clooney, Republican presidential nominee Jeb Bush, Vice President Joe Biden, tennis star Novak Djokovic, and author Stephen King.

However, on Monday night, Colbert’s show focused on a more unorthodox guest on the late night stage—Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

As Breyer waltzed onto the Late Show stage, Colbert graciously told Breyer, “Thanks for being here. You’re really classing up the joint.”

The Harvard Law School graduate and 20-year Supreme Court veteran promoted his new book, The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global RealitiesThe book argues for a more international view of the law in the United States beyond our borders. Adam Liptak’s (@adamliptak) piece in The New York Times expounds on Breyer’s unique worldly point of view.

The highlight of Breyer’s appearance began at 3:13 of the below video when Colbert pressed Breyer about cameras and access to the highest court in the country. Unlike the highest courts in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia and many lower courts in the United States, the most influential court in America refuses to allow the public to peer inside of the hallowed halls and get a glimpse of democracy at work.

This is a fight I intend to pursue throughout my career because the American people deserve access to the judiciary. They deserve to see and hear their government at work, gather all the facts, and then have an informed debate about the critical issues that come before the Court.

In creating a wall between the public and the protective Justices, speech on the important issues argued in the Supreme Court is stifled and suppressed. This is not how the American judiciary should function. Access and transparency should always be the answer.

The dialogue regarding cameras in the Supreme Court occurs at 3:13 and a transcript of the back-and-forth is below.

Colbert: The Supreme Court is about the last place in America where I couldn’t bring my camera crew in to shoot what the government is doing, to get video of what the government is doing. Why can’t we watch you if the Supreme Court repeatedly rules that we can be watched by the government?

Breyer: And there are very good arguments in favor of what you are just saying.

Colbert: I just made one. I just made a very good one. If you had cameras in the courtroom, you could just put your book on the edge of your desk, and you wouldn’t have to be here right now shaking your lawmaker (laughter).

Breyer: Right there in what you just said you have given part of the answer. I’m in a job where we where black robes because in part we are speaking for the law. Everybody knows we are human being.

Colbert: In part to make you spooky (laughter).

Breyer: That’s a thought. But the country doesn’t want to know the Constitution according to Breyer or according to O’Connor. They want to know what the answer to this thing is. That’s true of the process. If you had cameras right there in the process of oral argument; if you had that, we don’t know what the reaction exactly would be among the lawyers. The oral argument is about five percent of the basis for deciding a case. It’s almost all in writing. And the toughest part about this question you posed is this: When I’m deciding a case, I’m deciding it for 315 million people who are not in that courtroom. The rule of law; the rule of interpretation; it applies to everybody. The human beings – correctly and decently – relate to people they see. And they’ll see two lawyers, and they’ll see two clients, and they’ll see two lawyers, and they’ll see two clients. Will they understand the whole story? Will they understand what we’re doing? Will there be distortion? Now, that’s the arguments against you. The argument for you is that it would be a fabulous educational process.

Colbert: And pretty entertaining sometimes too I’m guessing.

Breyer: Uh . . . no (laughter).

Colbert: I disagree. [End]

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