Retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer appears to be in "YOLO" mode following a recently published ruling in which he referenced an article deeming Boston City Hall the "World's Ugliest Building."

The outgoing justice took the phrase "you only live once" to heart on Monday when he authored a unanimous opinion in a First Amendment case featuring a statement completely irrelevant to the case at hand, opining on the "brutalist style" of the late 1960s, reflected in the architecture of Boston City Hall.

Breyer sat on the Boston-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit for 14 years, and his chambers in downtown Boston were within walking distance of City Hall.

Breyer is the one justice on the nine-member bench who has the credence to discuss critics' comments on the public building, which "articulates its functions" with "strength, dignity, grace, and even glamor," as he is also a juror for the Pritzker Architecture Prize.


Boston City Hall
Boston City Hall seen in a 2006 photo. The building was later named the "World's Ugliest Building" by the Boston Herald in 2008. Chitose Suzuki/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The justice referenced a 2008 article in the Boston Herald in which the publication named Boston City Hall the "World's Ugliest Building," describing its "dreary facade, cold interior, its big, empty, windswept plaza, as well as the way its monstrous, angular frame dominates its surroundings."

Breyer's opinion abruptly switched gears to discuss the root of the case, Shurtleff v. City of Boston, in which the court unanimously ruled the city of Boston violated a man's First Amendment rights when it said he could not raise a Christian flag in front of City Hall, despite allowing other groups from the community to raise secular flags.

In the years since Breyer's nomination to the high court by President Bill Clinton in 1994, he has become known to posit eccentric hypothetical scenarios as he discusses complex legal concepts with attorneys.


Breyer heard his final high court arguments on Wednesday in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta. Following oral arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts paid an emotional homage to the retiring justice as he prepares to vacate the seat for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was confirmed earlier this month to be his successor.

"The oral argument we have just concluded is the last the court will hear with Justice Breyer on the bench," Roberts said in a trembling voice on Wednesday. "For 28 years, this has been his arena for remarks profound and moving, questions challenging and insightful, and hypotheticals downright silly."