Thursday, March 18, 2004
Scalia responds to recusal motion: fuggeddaboudit!
For my Con Law students, there is an interesting passage in Scalia's memo about two previous, well-known occasions when a Justice accepted the hospitality of the President while a case that was important to the President was pending before the Court. One example was "Whizzer" White's ski vacation in Colorado with Attorney General Bobby Kennedy's family at a time when two cases were pending in which Kennedy was a named party and a third case was pending in which the AG argued the case himself. (White didn't recuse himself.) The second occasion involved Wickard v. Filburn, a seminal Commerce Clause case that we will be discussing in class on Monday:
Justice Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt
The second example pertains to a Justice who was one of the most distinguished occupants of the seat to which I was appointed, Robert Jackson. Justice Jackson took the recusal obligation particularly seriously. See, e.g., Jewell Ridge Coal Corp. v. United Mine Workers, 325 U. S. 897 (1945) (Jackson, J., concurring in denial of rehearing) (oblique criticism of Justice Black’s decision not to recuse himself from a case argued by his former law partner). Nonetheless, he saw nothing wrong with maintaining a close personal relationship, and engaging in “quite fre-quen[t]” socializing with the President whose administra-tion’s acts came before him regularly. R. Jackson, That Man: An Insider’s Portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt 74 (J. Barrett ed. 2003). In April 1942, the two “spent a weekend on a very delightful house party down at General Watson’s in Charlottesville, Virginia. I had been invited to ride down with the President and to ride back with him.” Id., at 106 (footnote omitted). Pending at the time, and argued the next month, was one of the most important cases concerning the scope of permissible federal action under the Commerce Clause, Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U. S. 111 (1942). Justice Jackson wrote the opinion for the Court. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture, rather than Roosevelt himself, was the named federal officer in the case, but there is no doubt that it was important to the President.
I see nothing wrong about Justice White’s and Justice Jackson’s socializing—including vacationing and accepting rides—with their friends. Nor, seemingly, did anyone else at the time. (The Denver Post, which has been critical of me, reported the White-Kennedy-McNamara skiing vacation with nothing but enthusiasm.) If friendship is basis for recusal (as it assuredly is when friends are sued personally) then activity which suggests close friendship must be avoided. But if friendship is no basis for recusal (as it is not in official-capacity suits) social contacts that do no more than evidence that friendship suggest no impropriety whatever. Of course it can be claimed (as some editorials have claimed) that “times have changed,” and what was once considered proper—even as recently as Byron White’s day—is no longer so. That may be true with regard to the earlier rare phenomenon of a Supreme Court Justice’s serving as advisor and confidant to the President—though that activity, so incompatible with the separation of powers, was not widely known when it was occurring, and can hardly be said to have been generally approved before it was properly abandoned. But the well-known and constant practice of Justices’ enjoying friendship and social intercourse with Members of Congress and officers of the Executive Branch has not been abandoned, and ought not to be.