The Judicial Ethics Forum (JEF)

An Academic Discussion of Judicial Ethics, Discipline & Disqualification

Sample on Supreme Court Recusal

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Sunday, May, 19, 2013

Outstanding Professor James Sample has published an interesting review of Supreme Court recusal practice (or lack thereof).  Portions of the abstract and a link to Professor Sample’s full work follow:

For Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, controversies pitting personal conflicts — whether actual or merely alleged — against the constitutional commitment to the rule of law increasingly form the basis of a caustic and circular national dialogue that generates substantially more heat than light. While the profile of these controversies is undoubtedly waxing, the underlying tensions stretch back at least to Marbury v. Madison. . . .

The study yields a layered picture that is rich in historical imagery, anecdote, and analytically-critical context. In this respect, the Article includes, but is not limited to, treatments of the midnight Justices in Marbury; the Steel Seizure case and the “damned fool” whom Truman felt was the “biggest mistake he had made” as President; Thurgood Marshall’s long arc with the NAACP; perhaps the best-known duck-hunting trip of all time; Justice O’Connor’s election night outburst preceding Bush v. Gore; profound matters of issue identification involving Justices Ginsburg and Breyer; and finally the controversies surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including the undisclosed income related to Virginia Thomas’s work opposing the health care legislation and Justice Kagan’s ill-advised e-mails including the memorable “I hear they have the votes, Larry!!”

The exploration serves as a navigational guide to the difficult but necessary task of separating the shrill cries from the serious constitutional concern of genuine Supreme Court conflict. The Article situates the analysis of Supreme Court disqualification practice, and particularly the circumstances involving Justices Thomas and Kagan vis-a`-vis the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, within the broader, enduring legal dichotomy of rules as opposed to standards. Pointing to Chief Justice Roberts’s recent, relatively bare assertion that when it comes to disqualification, the Supreme Court is simply constitution- ally and pragmatically different, the Article asserts that while the Chief Justice’s argument is neither emotionally nor intellectually satisfying, in an imperfect world, his argument is also entirely correct. . . .

James Sample, Supreme Court Recusal from Marbury to the Modern Day, 26 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 95 (2013).

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