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Supreme Court Justices Make TV Appearance
Supreme Court Justices O'Connor, Breyer Talk Terrorism, Courtroom Cameras in Rare TV Appearance

The Associated Press


Despite the 5-4 votes and blistering dissents, the Supreme Court is not fractured, Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Stephen Breyer said in a rare television interview.

The justices talked about terrorism, cameras in the courtroom, tough decisions they face, and their legacies in the wide-ranging interview broadcast Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

O'Connor dodged questions about whether she would retire soon after 22 years on the court.

O'Connor, who was appointed by Republican Ronald Reagan, denied published reports that her husband told people on election night in 2000 that she wanted Republican George Bush to win so she could step down. Asked if people can take from her silence about her future that she intends to remain at the court another year, she said only: "I assume so."

The joint interview was highly unusual. Some of the court's nine members give no interviews. Those who do grant them only rarely.

The program was taped Friday in Philadelphia where O'Connor received the city's Liberty Medal. ABC provided a transcript in advance of the broadcast.

The justices were not asked about cases in the recently completed term. In it, the court upheld the continued use of race as a factor in university admissions and issued a sweeping ruling that said gay men and women cannot be prosecuted for what they do in the privacy of their bedrooms.

Both rulings were opposed by the court's most conservative members and prompted angry dissenting opinions. Justice Antonin Scalia warned that his colleagues had "taken sides in the culture war" by striking down sodomy laws and opened the door for gay marriages.

O'Connor said life goes on after divisive cases.

"When you work in a small group of that size, you have to get along, and so you're not going to let some harsh language, some dissenting opinion affect a personal relationship. You can't do that," O'Connor said.

She said the high court, naturally, must deal with the toughest cases, "where you can make a good argument on either side."

"I have never heard one member of the court say something insulting about another, even, even as a kind of joke. It's professional," Breyer said. "We conduct our discussions in what I would call a very civilized way."

About 20 percent of the court's rulings in the term were decided on 5-4 votes, including the most high profile cases.

O'Connor, the first female justice, played down the significance of that achievement. At the same time, she said it is better to have a diverse court.

"I think it helps with nine members, to have some different backgrounds there. You don't want nine clones," she said.

Both justices expressed reservations about allowing television cameras in Supreme Court arguments.

On the issue of terrorism, Breyer said courts must balance national security and liberty rights.

"Nobody wants to harm security and nobody wants, unnecessarily, you see, to prevent people from doing what they'd like to do," said Breyer, who was put on the court by President Clinton.

The two said they want to be remembered as doing their best.

"I've always just said that I hope, at the end of the day, it can be said on my tombstone: Here lies a good judge," O'Connor said.

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photo credit and caption:

Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, left, and Sandra Day O'Connor, join George Stephanopoulos, right, Friday, July 4, 2003, in Philadelphia for an interview to air on ABC's THIS WEEK on Sunday, July 6. (AP Photo/Ken White, ABC News)

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