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Breyer iffy on election ruling

STANFORD, Calif. — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said he wasn't sure he was being truly impartial when the court was asked to settle the disputed 2000 presidential vote in Florida.

Breyer — named to the court 10 years ago by President Clinton — was one of the dissenting votes in the 5-4 decision that canceled a controversial recount in Florida, sending Republican George W. Bush to the White House instead of Democrat Al Gore.

"I had to ask myself would I vote the same way if the names were reversed," Breyer said Saturday at Stanford University Law School. "I said, 'Yes.' But I'll never know for sure — because people are great self-kidders — if I reached the truthful answer."

Breyer, a 1959 Stanford graduate, made the comments at a seminar on judicial activism with California Chief Justice Ronald George and federal Court of Appeals Judge Pamela Rymer.

The three said most jurists depend on the rule of law and legal precedent to make decisions — guidelines they acknowledged are subject to interpretation.

"Precedent and rule of law. They don't answer everything, but they do give us a clue," Breyer said. "Judges whom I've met by and large try to find the answer. They come to different conclusions, but they try."

Breyer also said many jurists, himself included, take into account contemporary matters raised by the public, citing briefs from organizations defending affirmative action.

"Do I read the newspapers and try to see which way the political wind is blowing?" he said. "No. But we do decide through briefs that are submitted. . . . They are people trying to tell us of the impact of our decisions in their bit of the world."