Taking up progressive complaints that the Supreme Court has become dangerously politicized, Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) are introducing legislation that could require justices to recuse themselves in certain cases.
“The problem is the only person who can decide whether Justice Thomas can recuse himself is Justice Thomas,” Murphy told reporters at a press conference outside the Capitol. “That’s wrong and that needs to change.”
The bill would allow the Judicial Conference, which determines standards of recusal for federal judges, to examine Supreme Court members as well and create guidelines for determining a conflict of interest. They could even force members to step down from certain cases if they determined a procedure for such a move. The bill would also require members to offer an explanation if they decide to recuse themselves voluntarily as to why they declined to judge a case.
Justices Thomas and Scalia have been under frequent fire in liberal circles over their attendance at conferences sponsored by Koch Industries in recent years, a company whose owners have been major financial backers of conservative political causes. Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas, runs a conservative nonprofit group, Liberty Central, and some have suggested her activism against President Obama’s health care legislation could be a conflict of interest for her husband if the new health care reform law — as expected — reaches the Supreme Court. Justice Thomas raised eyebrows this weekend when he said in a speech at a banquet that his wife was working “in defense of liberty” and that they “love the same things, we believe in the same things.”
Weiner said that the Thomas family’s political connections endangered the credibility of the court.
“When Justice Thomas gives a speech just this weekend where he essentially says I agree with my wife and what she said about health care reform, it should give us all pause,” he told reporters. “He should clearly recuse himself and hopefully when Congressman Murphy’s legislation becomes law we will have a process whereby the other justices can say, ‘You know what, Justice Thomas? It just doesn’t look right that you’re dealing with this case.’”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.