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Chief Justice Roberts Supports His Court’s Recusal Policies

Posted Jan 3, 2012 6:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. supported his court’s recusal procedures on Saturday amid calls for two justices to bow out of a case on the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s health care law.

In his annual report (PDF) on the state of the federal judiciary, Roberts said he was not addressing “ongoing debates” about specific issues and he did not mention any justices by name. But he did say he has confidence in the process in which justices decide for themselves whether to recuse. Among the publications with the story are the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today and The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.

“I have complete confidence in the capability of my colleagues to determine when recusal is warranted,” Roberts wrote. “They are jurists of exceptional integrity and experience whose character and fitness have been examined through a rigorous appointment and confirmation process.”

Some Democrats have called for the recusal of Justice Clarence Thomas because his wife founded a group publicly opposing the health care law. Some conservatives, on the other hand, have called for the recusal of Justice Elena Kagan because she was solicitor general when President Obama signed the health care bill into law.

Roberts said recusal issues at the Supreme Court are influenced by “unique circumstances.” There are no other stand-ins to replace Supreme Court justices who recuse themselves, he said. And it would create an “undesirable situation” for the justices to decide when a colleague must recuse because it could affect the outcome of the case.

According to The BLT, “Roberts' discussion of Supreme Court ethics was extraordinary, taking up all but the final two paragraphs of his 12-page report.”

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