Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Ethics scholars: recusal on moral grounds inappropriate

As noted yesterday, twelve legal ethics scholars have written a letter to the Tennessee Supreme Court expressing their concerns about the practice of some judges to recuse themselves from all cases of juveniles seeking a judicial bypass of the parental consent requirement for abortions.

One the one hand, judicial recusal is ethically appropriate and perhaps required when a judge is convinced that his or her moral views render the judge unable to decide facts and law impartially in a particular case. Such instances occur rarely. However, the blanket use of recusal to avoid a particular category of unpopular cases is inappropriate, especially when coupled with a public statement or signaling of the reason for recusal by a judge acting individually or in apparent collective action with other judges. Such action is inconsistent with the judicial duty to decide cases assigned to the judge, undermines confidence in the judiciary’s commitment to uphold state law, stamps other judges unfairly with the charge that they approve of all laws that they implement, and puts pressure on other judges to follow suit in order to win reelection to the bench or to gain elevation to a higher court.

Thanks to Prof. Susan P. Koniak, one of the twelve scholars, for providing me with a copy of the letter.

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