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Breyer: Court Struggles With Tech Issues

The Supreme Court justice says judges shouldn't develop narrow specialties, but conceded that tackling specialized subjects can present problems for generalists.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is rightly made up of nine generalists, but tackling arcane subjects can tax judges without specialties or expertise in scientific or technical fields, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said Thursday.

Judges should not throw up their hands when confronted with highly technical subjects, such as government regulation of telecommunications or information technology, Breyer said. But neither should they develop narrow specialties.

"Review by generalist judges brings a certain lay common sense to technical decisions and a necessary degree of coherence to the law," Breyer told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute, an economic think tank.

Lower courts might make wider use of independent experts to help sort out complex cases, but the Supreme Court should not do so, Breyer said.

"We each participate fully in each judicial decision. We believe we are appointed to exercise our own judgment, and each of us takes full responsibility for his or her decision in each case," Breyer said.

He added that outside experts who might be hired by lower courts would undoubtedly make some mistakes and should not be considered infallible.

Breyer cited several examples from among cases the court has recently decided that involved complicated government regulation. Often, Breyer said, it is difficult to convince his colleagues that a detailed economic analysis will help the court reach a decision.

"But it's a little better than the status quo which too often is what I call 'flying blind,'" he said.

Breyer urged further study by the American Bar Association and scientific and professional organizations.

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