High Court Nomination Hits a Snag

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PRESIDENT Clinton has put off an announcement of his first selection to the Supreme Court until at least today as questions arose about front-runner Judge Stephen Breyer's failure to pay Social Security taxes for a domestic employee.

A White House official confirmed a CBS report that Mr. Breyer had failed to pay Social Security taxes and said the White House had known of the situation "for quite a while."

The official said the White House was taking the matter seriously in discussions with senators, but did not believe it would disqualify Breyer or be a serious barrier to his confirmation if nominated.

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The official said he did not have full details of the Breyer situation, but said it definitely was "not a Zoe Baird" problem of knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant and failing to pay taxes.

The White House official compared Breyer to others appointed by Clinton - including Commerce Secretary Ron Brown - who did not know they were supposed to pay Social Security taxes for certain workers and paid them, retroactively, when apprised.

Another White House official said the administration discovered the situation "a number of weeks ago" and briefed several senators on the matter "before we even approached Breyer." The official said Clinton "has been aware of it, too. I'm not sure how long, but he's been aware of it."

A source close to Breyer said the employee in question has worked at the Breyer household one or two mornings a week over the past 13 years and was over 65 and already drawing Social Security benefits when she started. The source said it never occured to the Breyers that they should be paying Social Security to the woman, who is a family friend.

Breyer is the chief judge of the First US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

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