Monday, February 14, 2011

What happens when a Supreme Court justice fails to comply with the law?

Here's a curious story.  74 members of Congress wrote Justice Thomas a letter asking him to recuse himself from any upcoming health care case because his wife is a self-appointed “ambassador to the Tea Party movement.”  Justice Thomas also failed to report in his financial disclosure forms, as required by law, income that his wife received from the Heritage Foundation.  We are talking a big chunk of change, around $680,000.

At first glance, one is inclined to catalogue this under similar attacks from liberal quarters at Justice Thomas.  But this letter has a different quality to it.  How could a federal judge forget to comply with federal law in this way? 

So I wonder: what are the chances of recusal?  I'd wager between zero next and none.  But the better question is, what happens to a sitting justice when he fails to comply with federal law?  I suspect we already know the answer: probably nothing. But the better question is why.  Is it because judicial independence demands it?  Or is it because we understand the justices for what they are, human beings with political connections, and this is nothing that ought to disturb anybody?  Or is it something else entirely?

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