January 28, 2022

"Well, you know, he's a bland, older white guy."

Says Adam Liptak about Justice Stephen Breyer. Liptak was asked, on the NYT "Daily" podcast — at 8:48 — why it is that Breyer is the Supreme Court Justice people have the least opinion about (according to a poll).

Breyer, we're told, took into account — in deciding when to leave the Court — a desire not to have his "legacy" undone by the person who replaces him, and that raised the question what is his legacy? Maybe the podcast listeners don't know. In an effort to enlighten them, Liptak began with the notion that Breyer is "a bland, older white guy."

Now, let's be clear. Liptak didn't say that because a person is male, old, and white he's bland. He piled "bland" onto the list of things that supposedly cause people not to have an idea of what Justice Breyer is about. But the suggestion is there: to be white is to be bland. Of course, Liptak isn't saying that white people are bland, only that people, seeing a white person, may get no further than to perceive him as bland.

I can see the argument that this perception is good. Let's begin, when we see a person, with a presumption of blandness. Nothing special about this person. A blank. We'll see if he does anything to distinguish himself. Until then: bland. And don't let that be white privilege. Give everyone this privilege. Until you know something about this individual, leave an open space. If they never put anything in that space — that space in your head — let them remain an enigma, nothing but potential. You do not know them, and maybe you never will.

52 comments:

Lem said...

I heard this interview yesterday evening driving home.

Lem said...

That line about the desire not to have his “legacy undone” by someone coming in behind him, was something Brier supposedly quoted Scalia as saying about his own legacy.

mezzrow said...

One of the scenes from 2020 that sticks in my head is a lovely young black woman holding up a sign that says YOU WHITE PEOPLE NEED TO SEASON YOUR FOOD.

Rollo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gahrie said...

Let's begin, when we see a person, with a presumption of blandness.

Tell that to Thomas, Kavanaugh and Sandmann.

Jamie said...

I am constantly bemused by our host's worldview: that boredom is superior to interest, that blandness is the preferred default assumption when someone is an enigma, that the best way to spend a day or a holiday is quietly and closer to home. And then I'm bemused by my own bemusement, because my life is pretty quiet most of the time and I'm pretty happy with it. Who am I, Walter Mitty or something?

rehajm said...

Breyer, we're told, took into account — in deciding when to leave the Court — a desire not to have his "legacy" undone by the person who replaces him…

I cannot square this with the self-proclaimed idea SCOTUS judges are not being political, that they are neutral and fair in interpreting the laws. If that were true it would not matter to Breyer which neutral and fair person is selected as his replacement.

He also fails to consider the possibility he was a colossal failure and having his ‘legacy’ undone is correcting an historical fuck up.

Bob Boyd said...

But would you ever hear a Times man or woman say, "He's a bland, older black man?"

What's emanating from your penumbra said...

I didn't hear the interview, but I think that description says more about Liptak than Breyer.

Patrick said...

Breyer's legacy is playing the Washington Generals to Scalia's Globetrotting judicial arguments

mikee said...

People you don't want excited about things are doctors, auto mechanics, first lieutenants and Supreme Court Justices. To hear any one of them say, "Oh, wow!" or "Whoops!" or "WE GOTTA DO SOMETHING!" is the prelude to a disaster. You want bland in these people, and boring in what they do. You want calm deliberation without distraction. You want nothing that is out of the ordinary when dealing with them, because any extraordinary thing will almost certainly be painful, cost a lot, leave you in a world of trouble, or change the rules you have to follow in life.

Supreme Court Justices deciding how to interpret the rules of federal pensions when a conflict arises over what counts as a military pension and what counts as a civilian pension is perfect for the Court. Deciding legality of abortion is a legislative matter. Bland is good, for the Justice and for the cases they examine.

Maynard said...

Is Breyer's legacy that he voted for Bush in the SCOTUS 7-2 Bush v. Gore decision?

rehajm said...

But would you ever hear a Times man or woman say, "He's a bland, older black man?"

That line of Liptak’s evokes the hot-fire contempt of listening to a bigot. One society still chooses to embrace and accept and, most unfortunately, to respect.

Some of you, at least…

chickelit said...

Blands have more fun is the common prejudice.

MikeR said...

'a desire not to have his "legacy" undone by the person who replaces him' What does that even mean? And is it okay if it's some other Justice who isn't replacing him, like Gorsuch or Kavanaugh?

Lem said...

They went on to talk about Briers temperament and I got the impression that ‘blandness’ had to do with Briers open mindedness and his ability to articulate both sides of an issue. They went on to quote from an abortion case Brier wrote the majority opinion and how fair he sounded. A picture of a dispassionate justice if I’ve ever heard one.

RideSpaceMountain said...

Prepare for his replacement to be loud, obnoxious, and unscrupulous all while standing on the table with a fist raised.

In one year SCOTUS will have bouncers in chambers for the all night $20 rap review and Hennessey on tap. But at least it won't be boring or bland.

Kevin said...

You do not know them, and maybe you never will.

Cruel blandity.

Kevin said...

Bland Lives Matter.

Achilles said...

""Well, you know, he's a bland, older white guy.""

Lets play the matching adjectives with other race, gender and ethnicity game!

"angry, older black guy"

"loud, older black woman"

"obese, older hispanic woman"

"emotional, older white woman"


Democrats and other tribal racist political movements always need a class/race of people to attack and demonize.

They cannot operate politically without persecuting someone. In the 19th century it was Irish and Italian. In the 30's and 40's it was Jews. In the 60's it was Black men.

Now it is white men.

This is basic human biology and they know that all sorts of people will jump in with both feet.



rhhardin said...

Blands have more fun.

farmgirl said...

I wouldn’t say bland is another word for blank, as in: potential.

This man chose this word intentionally, but he was also projecting his opinion(onto the once blank page of Justice Breyer’s character)- which removes the potential of blankness. I feel, not knowing more than your excerpt has told me- that this man overstepped his coloration of the reason he feels people are vague in knowledge of Justice Breyer, by choosing the most opaque crayon in the box.

https://pagesix.com/2017/08/04/how-jonathan-lipnicki-found-faith-and-hollywood-in-israel/amp/
I thought this was the guy being interviewed at 1st- lol

tim maguire said...

don't let that be white privilege. Give everyone this privilege

Non-white suggests exotic. Exotic people are pre-supposed to be interesting, to have interesting important perspectives, are worth knowing and watching. Have we sunk so low in our mining for privilege accusations that now an actual handicap of being white--the initial impression of blandness--gets portrayed as a privilege?

farmgirl said...

Maybe he should have prefaced w/: he seems… ?

rhhardin said...

Bland, older white guy does in fact imply it's general. And it is. What do they worry about? Systems, not feelings.

They can be feminized, I mean who doesn't want to pick up a female, but the idea sticks.

Paul's grandfather was very clean, as I recall in the film, as he was characterized. Even though I remember him as being a lecher in the film. Maybe a misremembering from Little Miss Sunshine, though that grandfather was more of a humorist than lecher.

Sally327 said...

So Locke's tabula rasa then?

I think Justice Breyer presents himself with restraint, which is what one should want from the judiciary, especially at the Supreme Court level. We shouldn't want...I almost wrote colorful, but that would be a loaded word, wouldn't it?

But when I read that Breyer is supposedly concerned about having his legacy tainted, it does make me think there is a huge ego residing behind that placid demeanor. But then I guess modest isn't much of an admired trait these days.

Ann Althouse said...

"I am constantly bemused by..."

Vanilla is a gorgeous flavor...

Quiet is the most beautiful sound, followed by gentle whispering...

Better than nothing is a high standard...

rehajm said...

Prepare for his replacement to be loud, obnoxious, and unscrupulous all while standing on the table with a fist raised

You’d think but they’ll have to somehow sneak the fire-breather by Senator Arizona Maverick 2: Eclectic Boogaloo…

Not sure that’ll be so easy…

EH said...

racist, sexist, and ageist. Although, I do think there should be age limits for all public offices. Biden/Trump/Pelosi are too old for their roles (and it shows for Biden).

Ann Althouse said...

But I didn't say bland was the best sort of person, just start with a presumption of blandness, a blank sheet of paper... and give the person you are considering the room to show you what they actually are. If it's something minimal and gentle, honor that. If it's exciting, see exactly what is exciting when it is revealed.

Sebastian said...

"the question what is his legacy?"

1. Always voted the right, i.e., left, way. 2. Dressed it up a bit better than most. 3. Brought free-floating interpretation in light of judicially divined "purpose" out in the open. 4. Lost debates with Scalia.

farmgirl said...

Justice Breyer believes in the abortion mill and his legacy has been to push the expansion of more livers and limbs made available for black market sale…

Or something.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Breyers Natural Vanilla is the best vanilla ice cream, better than all the other vanillas.

farmgirl said...

Oh- wow, Althouse.
Vanilla is a gorgeous smell, as well.
Not bland, though.

rehajm said...

…there’s also the procedural shenanigans that will soon be all the rage. Without a Democrat majority it may be hard to bring the confirmation to the floor for a vote.

At this point I’m taking the under on a Breyer retirement before 2023 gets going…

Conrad said...

I wonder how long it'll be before the next time a Dem president appoints a white male to the SCOTUS? Seems like the pressure and the assumption will always be that the seat should go to a woman, a black, a trans, etc. -- and this will absolutely be the case whenever the Dem president has to replace a woman, a black, a trans, etc.

Critter said...

People will look back at this period and find it curious to see the compulsion for everything to be about race. I am reminded of what my son said about his teachers focusing on race and sexual preferences in high school: It’s just a bunch of old hippies talking to other hippies about their hangups. It’s not our experience or reality.

rehajm said...

Senator Arizona Maverick 2: Eclectic Boogaloo

I just made that up and kind of like it. Hope it sticks...

What's emanating from your penumbra said...

I'm not buying the bland = blank slate analysis. Liptak was trying to provide a description, not provide the absence of a description.

Critter said...

Vanilla is a terrific flavor. I prefer it over chocolate. Give me a scoop of vanilla gelato next to one of pistachio and I’m in heaven.

Rollo said...

Does the general public really know that much about Supreme Court justices? One begins to suspect that there may be some sense behind Biden's imbecility. If who's Black and who's White, and who's male and who's female, and who's been accused of what impropriety are all we know about the justices, then does ability really matter?

Notice, too, how much has changed since JFK. Harvard/Oxford San Franciscan Breyer, married into the British aristocracy, could have been the toast of the New Frontier. Now we just regret his pasty blandness and his lack of familiarity with rap, hip-hop, and Latinx culture.

Andrew said...

White is the only inclusive color. White light is a combination of all the colors in the color spectrum. Our blandness contains multitudes.

mccullough said...

Breyer voted with Rehnquist, O’Connor, and Kennedy in 4th Amendment search and seizure cases and 6th Amendment right to jury trial cases.

His legacy is to bolster the view that judges are bureaucrats. They are big part of the government.

Wa St Blogger said...

The supreme court as game show. Who are the candidates with the most interesting backstory? These are the people we want on our panel of deciding law. After all, law is not objective, it is dependent on one's race, and color and sexuality, whether one is human or furry or even alien. It depends if one is animate or inanimate. We need a clear cross-section of the population to make sure that the law is interpreted based one's personal interests and subjectivity. Only then will we know what the law really says. Today. Tomorrow might be different. So, no bland people. We have enough bland people. We need exciting members so that the show generates more viewership, especially in that coveted 20-45 age demographic.

n.n said...

Diversity [dogma] including racism... colorism, sexism, ageism, and other class-based bigotry.

William said...

I prefer my rock stars and lap dancers to be colorful and interesting and to be not afraid to experiment with drugs, Bland is good for judges. Scalia was about as colorful as the stress tolerances will allow. Bork had a colorful beard. That doomed him.

Rosalyn C. said...

Bland: Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Kagan, Breyer, Barrett
Spicy: Thomas, Sotomayor, Kavanaugh

Ann Althouse said...

I didn’t say a person is a blank slate. I said don’t make assumptions. Find out what each person is or accept that you don’t know.

What's emanating from your penumbra said...

AA said...

I didn’t say a person is a blank slate.

Not sure if I missed someone claiming this. CTRL+F "blank" returns only my comment, and I didn't say that you said this. I was commenting on your characterization of what Liptak meant by calling Breyer bland.

You said Liptak called him bland as a projection of what others might assume about him, and that you can see why assuming someone is bland, i.e. "blank", is a good idea.

Of course, Liptak isn't saying that white people are bland, only that people, seeing a white person, may get no further than to perceive him as bland.I can see the argument that this perception is good. Let's begin, when we see a person, with a presumption of blandness. Nothing special about this person. A blank.

I don't care to listen to Liptak, but without more of his comments presented, I would say he's calling Breyer bland, not saying that other people may assume he's bland. Is he also saying people just assume that he's older, or white or a guy? So I don't agree with your explanation, which I see as trying to excuse Liptak from describing Breyer in a pejorative way.

I said don’t make assumptions. Find out what each person is or accept that you don’t know.

Saying you don't know what a person is like is nothing like calling a person bland.

Saint Croix said...

Breyer is the guy who wrote the opinion saying there was a constitutional right to kill a baby in the middle of birth.

This is another true story. I was in a room full of attorneys one time, there were at least a dozen of us. And we were debating abortion, and I mentioned partial-birth abortion, and they had never heard of it. These are attorneys. I was flabbergasted.

Law professors don't teach the case. It's buried, like all the other evil shit that the Supreme Court has done in the abortion cases.

Breyer's opinion was so insane, it actually drove a pro-choice jurist into the pro-life camp. First time that's ever happened. (And probably the last, too). The born/unborn distinction is critical to the abortion mindset, like the baby/fetus distinction. They can't see the humanity of the unborn, so all the stabbing and crushing and poisoning doesn't bother them.

In the partial-birth abortion cases, the baby is halfway out of the uterus. You're on the verge of a murder of a citizen of the United States! So the whole thing is insane.

And of course five of them said it, so it's kind of mean of me to focus on Breyer. He's not the only one! But his opinion was so graphic, so ugly, so vile, that law students become pro-lifers just by reading those cases. (That's why they have to bury them!)

You only call Breyer "bland" if you're oblivious to his baby-killing opinion in Stenberg v. Carhart. Or, worse, you've read it and you think it's boring!

Saint Croix said...

They went on to quote from an abortion case Brier wrote the majority opinion and how fair he sounded. A picture of a dispassionate justice if I’ve ever heard one.

That's the Carhart case. That's really deceptive journalism on the podcast. The Carhart case is the most graphic, most homicidal abortion opinion ever written in the Supreme Court. The part you like is the opening paragraph.

We again consider the right to an abortion. We understand the controversial nature of the problem. Millions of Americans believe that life begins at conception and consequently that an abortion is akin to causing the death of an innocent child; they recoil at the thought of a law that would permit it. Other millions fear that a law that forbids abortion would condemn many American women to lives that lack dignity, depriving them of equal liberty and leading those with least resources to undergo illegal abortions with the attendant risks of death and suffering. Taking account of these virtually irreconcilable points of view, aware that constitutional law must govern a society whose different members sincerely hold directly opposing views, and considering the matter in light of the Constitution’s guarantees of fundamental individual liberty, this Court, in the course of a generation, has determined and then redetermined that the Constitution offers basic protection to the woman’s right to choose.

Why is that a deceptive clip? Well, "Millions of Americans believe that life begins at conception," is true. But this is a case about aborting a baby in the middle of birth. We're on the opposite end of the pregnancy spectrum from conception. This is not a microscopic organism. This is a baby in the middle of birth, classified as sub-human. And Breyer would go on to describe the homicides in very graphic passages.

Read the case and then tell me if you think Breyer is just or fair. And also tell me if you think the podcast honestly represented what this case is about, or what it's like to read it.

Rosalyn C. said...

In case people don’t know, there are many videos posted on YouTube of lectures and interviews with our Supreme Court justices. You can get a sense of who they are as people.