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Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said Friday that legal leaders must deal with serious questions about judges’ ethics without getting distracted by jokes about ducks. “I wouldn’t pay attention to newspapers,” he said in response to a request for advice for a commission that is rewriting ethics rules for judges. Breyer’s court has some experience with newspaper coverage. Dozens of newspapers criticized Justice Antonin Scalia for taking a duck hunting vacation with Vice President Dick Cheney in January while the court was considering Cheney’s appeal in a privacy case. Scalia refused to bow out of the case and sided with Cheney in a ruling that protected the Bush administration from having to reveal details of the vice president’s private energy task force meetings. The duck-hunting Scalia became the butt of jokes on late-night television. Numerous editorial boards complained about the Supreme Court’s policy of allowing individual justices to decide for themselves when their impartiality can be questioned. Breyer told American Bar Association leaders meeting in Atlanta that with the mention of “the word duck … everybody thinks that’s funny and so forth. But when you go into it, it’s a very difficult ethical question.” Breyer said each Supreme Court justice has a duty to decide when to hear cases. Breyer, who joined the court 10 years ago this month, routinely recuses himself in cases that were handled by his brother, a federal judge in California. Ellen Rosenblum, a circuit judge in Portland, Ore., had told Breyer that an ABA commission was “struggling quite a bit” in spelling out appropriate behavior for judges. Breyer said he is busy with his own assignment, from Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, overseeing a committee that is reviewing the impact of a 1980 federal law that allows punishment of federal judges who engage in “conduct prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts.” Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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