By Sen. Jeff Sessions
February 23, 2012 3:09 P.M. Comments0
As solicitor general of the United States, Justice Elena Kagan served as the head of an office responsible for formulating the Obama administration’s legal defense of its domestic agenda priority — Obamacare. It could be no surprise to President Obama who appointed her to the Supreme Court that any former solicitor general would have many conflicts for years to come. Now, the Court will soon hear a constitutional challenge to the health-care law. Despite mounting evidence of her substantial participation in the administration’s legal defense of that law, she still has not announced whether she will recuse herself from presiding over the case as a justice.
According to Section 455(b)(3) of Title 28 of the U.S. Code, justices must disqualify themselves in cases where they have “served in governmental employment and in such capacity participated as counsel, adviser, or material witness concerning the proceeding or expressed an opinion concerning the merits of the particular case or controversy.” In United States v. Gipson, the Tenth Circuit held that judges must recuse themselves if they have “previously taken a part, albeit small, in the investigation, preparation, or prosecution of a case.” Other courts have suggested that, merely by virtue of a lawyer’s position as the head of an office during the preparation of a case, he or she is disqualified to sit as a judge on that case. For example, several U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal have held that U.S. attorneys who later become judges must recuse themselves from any proceeding that had been pending in any way in their offices, even if they were not substantively involved.
Previously undisclosed e-mails that the Justice Department has released pursuant to court order demonstrate Kagan’s direct involvement in the administration’s defense of the president’s health law from the very beginning. In January 2010, she assigned her chief and only political deputy, Neal Katyal, to the matter — the legal equivalent of a firm’s senior partner delegating work to a junior associate. That same month Katyal wrote in an e-mail to the associate attorney general’s office that “Elena would definitely like OSG [Office of Solicitor General] to be involved in this set of issues.” These actions alone constitute personal participation in the preparation of the case, and that is all §455(b)(3) requires to trigger mandatory recusal.