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Justice Breyer disputes notion that judges rule with political motives

September 15, 2010 |  8:49 pm

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer on Wednesday sought to dispel the widespread public notion that federal judges rule under the influence of politics, deeming that image "grossly distorted."

"I never get to say what I think is good. It's much more complicated than that," he told an audience at downtown Los Angeles' Central Library in a town hall-style exchange.

Breyer, appointed by President Clinton in 1994, said some of the high court's most vilified decisions through history were the disastrous results of judges pursuing political objectives. The most notable example, he said, might be the 1857 Dred Scott decision that ruled that people of African descent weren't protected by the Constitution.

Those few instances where politics drive a decision show that "judges make terrible politicians," Breyer said.

Asked about the Supreme Court's 2000 ruling that led to George W. Bush becoming president instead of Al Gore, Breyer said that he thought the majority was wrong and that the controversial ruling damaged confidence in the federal judiciary.

"But it recovers," Breyer said of the Supreme Court's standing in the eyes of the American public. "I think we have a pretty strong institution."

-- Carol J. Williams