Roberts Defends Recusal Policy Amid Questions Over Reform Law Case
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in his year-end report defended the high court's recusal policy, amid calls from political groups for Justices Elena Kagan and Clarence Thomas to withdraw from a case challenging the federal health reform law, the Washington Post reports (Barnes, Washington Post, 12/31/11).
Some observers have said that Justices Kagan and Thomas should recuse themselves because of potential conflicts of interest. Republicans argue that Kagan should withdraw from the case because she was solicitor general in the Obama administration when the law was passed (California Healthline, 12/9/11).
Meanwhile, many liberal groups have questioned whether Thomas should be disqualified from reviewing health reform-related cases because his wife has actively and publicly opposed the overhaul (California Healthline, 11/15/11).
In his report, Roberts said that such recusal decisions must rest with the justices themselves (Washington Post, 12/31/11).
He said the Supreme Court cannot follow the practices of lower courts in recusal matters. He noted that lower-court judges can be replaced if they disqualify themselves and that their recusal decisions can be reviewed by higher courts, neither of which is applicable to the Supreme Court.
Roberts wrote, "The Supreme Court does not sit in judgment of one of its own members' decision whether to recuse," adding, "Indeed, if the Supreme Court reviewed those decisions, it would create an undesirable situation in which the court could affect the outcome of a case by selecting who among its members may participate" (Liptak, New York Times, 12/31/11).
Roberts did not refer to the pending health reform case or name Kagan or Thomas. However, he wrote, "I have complete confidence in the capability of my colleagues to determine when recusal is warranted" (Biskupic, USA Today, 12/31/11). He continued, "They are jurists of exceptional integrity and experience whose character and fitness have been examined through a rigorous appointment and confirmation process" (Washington Post, 12/31/11).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.