The Judicial Ethics Forum (JEF)

An Academic Discussion of Judicial Ethics, Discipline & Disqualification

New Scholarship: Bam on Judicial Recusal Regulation

Posted by kswisher on Sunday, December, 4, 2011

Dmitry Bam (Maine) has just published a provocative article on judicial recusal.  Prof. Bam claims persuasively that we in the field have been ineffectively emphasizing the substantive recusal standards and the actual recusal results in specific cases.  As he explains, “[f]ocusing on the final recusal decision, and considering appearances only at the time of that decision, places too much emphasis on an aspect of recusal that may not be so important, at least when it comes to public confidence in the impartiality and fairness of American courts.” 

He instead recommends that we shift our emphasis in two steps: “The first part requires that attention shift away from the outcome-based recusal jurisprudence that focuses on the substantive recusal standard and the actual recusal decision. The second requires that attention shift toward the rules, regulations, and procedures that precede the recusal decision: namely, (1) ex ante regulation of judicial conduct and judicial selection that creates the appearance of bias in the first place, and (2) new recusal procedures to govern the processes by which judges make recusal decisions.  The recommended shift of attention to ex ante regulation of judicial conduct and appearance based recusal procedures will promote the appearance of judicial impartiality.”

As Prof. Bam himself notes, “[i]t may seem odd at first glance that in this Article about recusal, the key jurisprudential change that I recommend is not actually a change to recusal rules at all, but rather a new approach to regulating judges and aspiring judges.”  But his aim is well-intended and one we should keep in mind in reform: “I hope to show that to maximize the appearance of impartiality, the time to think about recusal is before the appearance of bias arises in the first place.”

Dmitry Bam, Making Appearances Matter: Recusal and the Appearance of Bias, 2011 BYU L. Rev. 943.

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