Doing the right thing is easy when nothing important is at stake. Doing the right thing is much harder when there is a lot to lose. Elena Kagan is a loyal Democrat who owes her Supreme Court appointment to President Barack Obama.* She is poised to review the constitutionality of Obama’s health care statute, which, if invalidated, might do serious damage to his re-election campaign as well as the Democratic Party. Even though it would be a hard decision to make, Elena Kagan should recuse herself from hearing challenges to the act.
So far it appears that only Republicans and conservatives want Kagan to recuse herself from hearing the case, while liberals and Democrats take the opposing view. I have been a liberal constitutional law professor for more than 20 years, and a loyal Democrat. I believe the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and that it would be truly unfortunate for the country (and the party) if the court strikes it down. I also recognize that there is a much greater chance of the court erroneously striking down the PPACA if Kagan recuses herself. That said, I believe that as a matter of both principle and law, Kagan should not hear the case.
First the law: A federal statute requires that any “justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Federal law also requires that a judge recuse herself if the judge previously served in governmental employment “and in that capacity participated as a ... counsel, adviser, or material witness concerning the proceeding or has expressed an opinion concerning the merits of the particular case in controversy.”
Hat tip: Memeorandum
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