High court justices urged to abstain in health reform case

WASHINGTON — As the Supreme Court prepares to consider one of the most closely watched cases in its recent history, two of its nine justices — one on the left and one on the right — are being urged to step aside and let their colleagues determine the fate of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul without them.

Conservatives want Elena Kagan, the newest jurist on the court, off the case because of her ties to the Obama administration. Liberals would like to see Clarence Thomas to excuse himself because of his wife’s connection to advocacy groups that want the law overturned.

Neither side is likely to get its wish. Supreme Court justices pride themselves on their impartiality and rarely recuse themselves unless they have a direct financial stake in the outcome of a case. And the power to make that decision rests with each individual justice alone.

But that doesn’t mean either side won’t keep the pressure up. Last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Charles Grassley, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, sent Attorney General Eric Holder a letter demanding more information about Kagan’s involvement with the health care legislation while she served as U.S. solicitor general.

The bill was passed by Congress and signed into law in March 2010, while Kagan was still in the solicitor general’s office, and was immediately under threat of constitutional attack in the courts. At the same time, Kagan became aware that Obama was considering her to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the high court and has said that she began to scale back her involvement in ongoing matters in her office.

Kagan was nominated in May of that year. During her confirmation hearing, she testified that she played a minimal role in the Justice Department’s efforts to develop a litigation strategy to defend the law, known as the Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act. But seizing upon documents obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request, Republicans contend she may have been more deeply involved than she let on.

House Democrats have been calling for Thomas to step aside from the health care suit because his wife, Virginia Thomas, has worked for several conservative groups that have a stake in the outcome of the litigation. Virginia Thomas helped found one tea party affiliate, Liberty Central, that has been a fierce opponent of the law.

Earlier this year, 74 Democrats sent a letter to Thomas asking him to recuse himself because of his wife’s work as an advocate and lobbyist on the issue, citing as well Thomas’ failure to report the sources of his wife’s income on annual disclosure forms.

Thomas, along with Scalia, was also recently criticized for attending a dinner sponsored by an organization of conservative lawyers that was sponsored by several law firms with an interest in the outcome of the health care fight.

The frisson over recusal has been generated not only because of the intense interest on the legality of the health care law’s individual mandate to buy health insurance, but also the expectation of a court likely to be divided along a 5-4 line. That means the exit of one justice could produce a deadlock.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

Photos by Olivia Vanni / The Herald
Gabby Bullock sits on her bed in a room she shares with another housemate on June 14 in Everett.
‘We don’t have openings’: SnoCo recovery houses struggle with demand

Advocates say the homes are critical for addiction recovery. But home prices make starting a sober living house difficult.

Melinda Grenier serves patrons at her coffee truck called Hay Girl Coffee during the third annual Arlington Pride event in Arlington, Washington on Sunday, June 2, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Food safety team defends its work: it’s a ‘high pressure, thankless’ job

Management tried to set the record straight about long permit delays in Snohomish County.

Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. (Olivia Vanni/The Herald)
Global tech outage leaves a mark on Snohomish County

The CrowdStrike software update hit some systems at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett and briefly disrupted 911 operations.

Performers joust during the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire at Sky Meadows Park in Snohomish, Washington, on Sunday, Aug. 06, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Royalty and revelry: The spirit of the Renaissance comes to Monroe

The annual Renaissance fair will open its doors every weekend from July 20 to Aug. 18

Trees and foliage grow at the Rockport State Park on Wednesday, April 3, 2024 in Rockport, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
When you get lost in WA, what’s the cost to get rescued? Surprisingly little

Washington’s volunteer search and rescue teams save lives without costly bills.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.