July 13, 2010

Kagan and Obamacare Recusal

WSJ implores the Senate to press Kagan on her role in Obamacare to determine whether she should be required to recuse herself when the inevitable challenge reaches the Supreme Court.
In response to Senate queries, Ms. Kagan has said she'll recuse herself from participating in 11 cases on which she represented the government in her current job as Solicitor General. The challenge to ObamaCare isn't one of them, though the cases brought by Florida and 20 other states were filed in March, well before President Obama announced her nomination on May 10.

Ms. Kagan was never asked directly at her hearings about her role as SG regarding the health-care lawsuits. The closest anyone came was this question from Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn: "Was there at any time—and I'm not asking what you expressed or anything else—was there at any time you were asked in your present position to express an opinion on the merits of the health-care bill?"

Ms. Kagan: "There was not."

Regarding a potential recusal, that's not the right question. Ms. Kagan was unlikely to have been consulted on the merits of health-care policy, and even if she did express an opinion on policy this would not be grounds for recusal. The legal precedents on that are clear.

Recusal arises as a matter of judicial ethics if as a government official she expressed an opinion on the merits of the health-care litigation. This is what she would have to render a judgment on were she to be confirmed for the High Court. It is also the question on which she is likely to have participated given her role at the Justice Department.