U.S. Supreme Court

Should SCOTUS Institute New Recusal Rules? NYT Says Yes

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Should the U.S. Supreme Court abide by the same rules for reviewing and deciding recusal requests that lower federal courts follow?

According to the New York Times, it should.

The Times, in an editorial Wednesday, called on the court to adopt “clear and forthright standards” on conflicts, including a process for reviewing the recusal decisions of the justices and a requirement that justices issue opinions explaining their recusal actions.

Under the federal law that requires recusal when there is personal bias or other conflicts, the lower courts have developed sound standards and an evenhanded process, including appellate review of recusal decisions and a way of giving advisory opinions on judicial conduct, the editors wrote. Lower court judges customarily explain their decisions in written rulings as a basis for review by other judges, which is important to bolster the perception of fairness.

But the Supreme Court is not controlled by any of these provisions, the editorial notes. And it has not spelled out any rules the justices should follow, even though the law on judicial disqualification applies to them.

“Basically, the justices leave themselves free to decide when they will withdraw from a case. And, with rare exceptions, they do not explain their actions at all,” the editors wrote.

This failure undermines the court’s reputation, according to the editorial, which says the creation of such guidelines would enhance the court’s credibility and the public’s trust.

“There is simply no reason for the Supreme Court not to operate by principles that apply to all other federal judges in the country,” it says.

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