14 May 2008

Strange Days on the Supreme Court

4 member of the Supreme Court had to recuse themselves from a case this week because of conflicts of interest. Because at least 6 justices must hear a case, the Court couldn’t rule. The unusual situation occurred because the lawsuit involved 33 different companies, who are trying to stop a lawsuit on behalf of all South Africans charging them with having supported the apartheid government. Apparently it’s the first time in a quarter-century this has happened.

It seems to me that if the justices would put their money in a blind trust, we wouldn’t have the necessity of such recusals. What are the odds they’re carefully picking and choosing their own stocks anyway?

Still, at least they followed the proper procedure (actually, federal law, which mandates recusal if they own stock) and recused themselves. The Court’s reputation is still recovering from the damage caused by Scalia’s refusal to recuse himself in the Cheney case.

The Court's inability to rule means the case will go forward, to the dismay of the Bush administration, which had asked the Court to block the case because it
“is causing present injury to important interests of the United States and the Republic of South Africa.”
That sounds to me like they're putting politics above the law, but certainly I'd never expect this administration to do that. (/tongue-in-cheek)


James K said...

Isn't there a rule permitting a conflicted judge to take a case if there are no alternatives? I'm sure I can remember reading that somewhere.

James Hanley said...

There might be in some jurisdictions. But there's no such rule with the Supreme Court. Having nine members, there's nearly always enough to hear a case. And the case is actually being heard still--the Court's inability to rule just means that the lower court ruling stands, which is what happens to the 99% of appeals they reject anyway.