Archive for the 'Recusal' Category
Readers of Gavel Grab may be familiar with an unusual case in Kansas, where the attorney general has asked all seven justices of the state Supreme Court to step aside. Mother Jones now offers its intriguing take on the case:
“Kansas Republicans believe they have created a law that their own high court cannot review,” the magazine reports. “The power struggle between Kansas Republicans and the state’s highest court goes back to a years-long battle over education funding,” it adds.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt says the justices ought to recuse from hearing an appeal of a ruling that struck down a statute removing some of the high court’s authority, because they have indicated publicly their opposition to the law that was struck down. The statute took away the Supreme Court’s authority to appoint chief district judges, and there is political tension around the case, given the context noted by Mother Jones and other factors.
The failure of a Cobb County, Ga. judge to send recusal requests to another judge, rather than rejecting then himself, has led the Georgia Supreme Court to vacate three murder convictions. The judge’s recusal was sought in part because the local prosecutor had served as his campaign treasurer, according to The Marietta Daily Journal.
Recusal by Judge Reuben Green also was sought because he had worked in the local prosecutor’s office when the crimes were investigated, and before he became a judge. The article, “Georgia Supreme Court Vacates 3 Murder Convictions in Cobb,” is available by a Google search.
After through-the-roof spending and fundraising in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court election this month, “the question of whether a judge should recuse from cases involving a donor remains a gray area” in the state, a Legal Intelligencer article says.
“It gets messy pretty quick when you start to get down into the details of campaign finance and recusals,” Muhlenberg College political science professor Christopher Borick said. “Pennsylvania doesn’t have clear guidelines on this.”
Matthew Menendez of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law said some states establish a bright-line rule governing judicial recusal. Trial judges in New York, for example, must step aside if a party appearing in their courtroom has given $2,500 or more to their campaign for the bench. Read more
Six tobacco companies, suing in federal court in order to challenge federal Food and Drug Administration product labeling rules, have asked for U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta to step aside. They point to his having been partner at a law firm when it represented anti-tobacco groups.
A National Law Journal article about the recusal request is headlined, “Tobacco Companies Want Judge to Recuse Over Law Firm Ties,” and it is available by a Google search.
The judge has said in legal documents that his former law firm advised the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids when he was a partner but he did not advise the group.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has spelled out in a lengthy motion why he believes all seven Kansas Supreme Court justices ought to recuse from hearing an appeal of a ruling that struck down a statute removing some of the high court’s authority.
The justices should step aside because they have indicated publicly their opposition to the law that was struck down, the motion said, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal. The statute took away the Supreme Court’s authority to appoint chief district judges (see Gavel Grab), and there is political tension around the case. Read more
A Bloomberg Politics report recently spotlighted a recurring issue around stock holdings by some Supreme Court justices and recusal when their hearing a case could pose a conflict of interest (see Gavel Grab). Now veteran court observer Lyle Denniston has reflected at Constitution Daily on what the Constitution says about this.
Gavel Grab has often mentioned lawmakers urging that a code of judicial ethics be made binding on Supreme Court justices. At the same time, some experts argue that for the Congress to mandate compliance with the code would violate the separation of powers. Still others have urged members of the court to adopt their own rules and follow them. Denniston writes about the Constitution:
“To some observers, perhaps, right and wrong in judicial behavior is — or should be — clear, definite and not a matter of individual choice. To others, ethics is in the eye of the beholder, and is a matter of personal conscience. The Constitution, it seems, does not choose up sides in this debate, mandating only ‘good behavior,’ without further elaboration.”
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer participated in hearing this week a case while unaware that his wife holds stock in Johnson Controls Inc., which has a subsidiary that was a party to the case, Bloomberg Politics reported. The news outlet said his wife sold those shares the following day following an inquiry by a Bloomberg reporter.
Johnson Controls was not a party to the case. Justice Samuel Alito recused himself from the case, “apparently because he or his wife owns stock in Johnson Controls Inc.,” Bloomberg reported.
Bloomberg said it was not an isolated case: “The case is the latest example of a recurring phenomenon: a Supreme Court fight proceeding under a cloud because of judicial stock holdings. Recusals and last-minute stock sales are fueling calls for the justices to shift into investments less likely to pose a conflict of interest, while underscoring the complications that can arise in a system that gives the justices broad discretion to decide when to step aside.”
An Associated Press article quoted critics of Gov. Scott Walker, who appointed her, as saying an application process for the post was a “sham,” and the “fix” was in place for the Republican governor to name Bradley, a conservative whom he had named to the bench before and who is a declared candidate for election to the court next year. A Walker spokesperson rejected such claims and said the governor followed a typical appointment process.
Controversy still swirls around the issue of whether several Wisconsin Supreme Court justices should have recused in a campaign finance investigation ruling.
Wisconsin Government Accountability Board chair Gerard Nichol, a former judge, said this week that the four conservatives on the court should have stepped aside. If there is so much as a hint of a conflict of interest, judges should recuse, he said, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. Read more
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a Pennsylvania death row inmate whose legal arguments take aim at a state judge over tough-on-crime themes during his election campaign for the high bench.
Convicted murderer Terrance Williams contends that former Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald Castille should have recused himself from participating in a unanimous court decision that upheld Williams’ punishment.
Recusal was warranted because Castille had been working as the local prosecutor when Williams was convicted, Williams’s lawyers said. They also pointed to a tough-on-crime election campaign by Castille emphasizing his “pursuit of capital punishment” and putting convicted killers on death row, according to Reuters and Philadelphia Inquirer articles. Read more