The Virginia Verdict Review

Comprehensive and Informative Commentary on State and Federal Legal Matters

Political Parties Stir Up Controversy Over Supreme Court’s Review

Having given the appropriate amount of patriotic thanks over the holiday, Congressional leaders are back at it again this week, this time arguing over which members of the Supreme Court should be allowed to hear the up-coming health care reform case.  Despite having lauded the Court’s decision to settle the health care debate once and for all just last month, Republicans and Democrats alike are attempting to discredit Supreme Court judges who they feel might be detrimental to their cause.

This new squabble was kicked off last week when House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) called for an investigation into the role that Justice Elena Kagan played as Obama’s solicitor general prior to joining the Supreme Court.  While Kagan denies that she was involved in drafting or preparing the current health care reform legislation, Congressional Republicans contend that emails recently released to them as matters of public record paint a different picture.  Though none of these emails conclusively show that Kagan was directly involved in the development of the bill, at least one email, sent from then-Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal, states that she made efforts to ensure that her office was involved in the strategic process.  Interestingly enough, had she not been appointed to the Court, Kagan would be defending the health-care law at the Supreme Court rather than deciding whether it is constitutional.

Less than an hour after Congressman Smith requested further information on Kagan’s background, Congressional Democrats launched an attack at Justice Clarence Thomas.  In this case, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D.-NY) sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee requesting that the committee hold hearings on alleged ethical violations surrounding Thoma’s past financial history.  By showing that Justice Thomas left his wife’s income out of his required financial disclosure reports for a number of years–a mistake he has already admitted to and made efforts to correct–the Democrats hope to show that he lacks the moral integrity required of a Supreme Court judge and that he should therefore not be involved in the up-coming heath care hearing.

It remains to be seen how (if at all) this political-motivated name calling will effect the Supreme Courts actions when reviewing the health care legislation.  However, given that Supreme Court justices cannot be compelled to step down from a case, but rather must make the decision on their own, it seems more likely than not that all of this bantering will ultimately result in a whole lot of nothing.  At the end of the day, this most-recent conflict is little more more than an attempt by legislators to exert whatever influence they can on the judicial process.  Based on Congress’ track record as of late, I wouldn’t advise either party to hold their breath.


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