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O'Connor staying put? "I assume so'

Those who might be wondering whether Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor plans to retire from the court can breathe easier: the 73-year-old justice has offered her clearest public indication she plans to stay.

"Well, I assume so," O'Connor said when George Stephanopoulos asked her on Sunday's broadcast of ABC's This Week whether her silence on the issue of retirement means she will be on the court for at least the next term, which begins Oct. 6.

O'Connor has been the focus of retirement rumors since November 2000, when media reports said her husband, John, told friends on election night that she was frustrated at the prospect of a victory by Vice President Al Gore, since she had hoped to retire under a Republican president.

O'Connor told Stephanopoulos those reports were wrong.

O'Connor and Justice Stephen Breyer spoke with Stephanopoulos during a joint July 4 interview in Philadelphia, where the two justices were taking part in ceremonies marking the opening of the National Constitution Center.

The court's just-completed term included landmark rulings on affirmative action and gay rights, in which conservative dissenters, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, aimed verbal barbs at the majorities, of which O'Connor and Breyer were part, that ruled in favor of race-conscious admissions and against a Texas law banning homosexual sodomy.

Breyer said the justices have learned to take such rhetoric in stride.

"If I'm really put out by something, I can always go to the person who wrote and say, "Look, I think you've gone somewhat too far here,' " Breyer said. "But it isn't, it doesn't hang on as a personal matter, because we get on quite well personally."