Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

The Supreme Court Cannot Have Its Own Conflict of Interest — Justices Thomas and Scalia Must Recuse Themselves

Nov 15, 2011

The Supreme Court's recent decision to listen and eventually rule on the President's health care bill cannot and should not be viewed in a vacuum. After conflicting rulings in lower courts over whether or not the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, the highest legal body in the nation will now hear oral arguments next March on the issue, and is expected to reach a decision sometime in June. Though the Supreme Court may have the ultimate say-so in our legal processes, it's important to remember that it too must adhere to certain principles. And when SCOTUS Judge Clarence Thomas' wife is directly connected to an anti-health care lobbying group, and both he and Judge Antonin Scalia attend conservative fundraisers, they have no option but to recuse themselves.

Last week, Scalia and Thomas were invited guests to the Federalist Society's 2011 Annual Dinner. A highly conservative organization whose sole purpose appears to be to regress our nation, the Federalist Society not only asked the two Supreme Court judges to attend, but placed their names on publicity materials and gave them speaking opportunities as well. Sitting at different tables, Scalia and Thomas were only separated by the table of Paul Clement - the attorney who will likely argue the case against the health care bill in front of the Supreme Court, and the man who got his start clerking for Scalia himself. If this isn't the most outrageous conflict of interest, then I don't know what is.

Earlier this year, Judge Thomas finally released the details of his wife's income while working with the organization Liberty Central. A conservative political advocacy group, Liberty Central pushes for smaller government and other right-wing ideas - including a move to reverse the Affordable Care Act. Serving as President and CEO of Liberty Central, Thomas' wife, Virginia, received a salary of $150,000, and less than $15,000 from another anti-health care lobbying firm she started according to published reports of these financial disclosures. When this self-proclaimed 'ambassador to the Tea Party movement' is the wife of a sitting judge on the U.S. Supreme Court set to rule on the very issue she championed against, how can the American people not object?

Our judicial system was designed to serve as a forum whereby legal challenges and disputes could be resolved in a fair and just manner. And in order to maintain a certain level of equality, higher courts were established as a check on lower courts in an effort to provide impartiality on the day's pressing issues. As the most powerful court in the land, the Supreme Court is the final word on legal conflicts and as such, its judges are held to the highest of standards. Not only do they possess this immense responsibility and authority, but the Supreme Court also sets precedent for how lower courts may behave in the future. Throughout history, judges in various courts have often times recused themselves when there was an apparent conflict of interest in a case. You don't need a juris doctorate to realize that Thomas and Scalia should do the same now.

As one of the first moves of his Presidency, Barack Obama immediately began advocating for a change to our health care system. After significant, seemingly endless pushback from conservatives, he compromised in several areas and presented the public with a health care act that still provided comprehensive reform. No longer could insurance companies discriminate against children with pre-existing conditions, kids could remain on their parents' insurance until the age of 26 and many other benefits would go into effect within the next few years. As White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer highlighted on Monday, one million more young Americans now have health insurance, women are getting mammograms and preventative services without paying an extra penny out of their own pocket and insurance companies have to spend more of people's premiums on health care instead of advertising and bonuses.

But let's remember that this isn't about the President or about partisan politics. With at least 50 million Americans suffering without adequate health care in the most powerful nation, the Affordable Care Act was the initial step towards creating a more humane and honest system. I am not discussing this issue as a Democrat, but as someone who is concerned about the tens of millions - many of them children and the elderly - suffering without the ability to see a doctor. As I said before, this isn't about Obama; it's about our mama.

Judges are sworn to uphold the law and to do so in an unbiased manner. But when you have two individuals who openly support right-wing causes and attend conservative fundraising events, we open ourselves to a clear frontal partisan attack in our judicial process. After the health care legislation was passed, there were those that objected and some that lobbied and took their battles to court. One of those individuals lobbying was Virginia Thomas. And now the court with the final word must decide if it will allow judges with such a blatant conflict of interest to rule on this vital issue.

Judge Clarence Thomas and Judge Antonin Scalia must remove themselves from hearing these cases. It is the only way we can have a fair, objective ruling on perhaps the most pertinent legislation of our time.