[JURIST] Chief Justice John Roberts on Saturday in his year-end report [text, PDF] expressed complete confidence in the ability of the US Supreme Court [official website] justices to recuse themselves from cases with a personal interest at stake. Roberts’ comments came amid controversy over whether two justices on the Court should recuse themselves [AP report] when the Supreme Court decides the constitutionality [SCOTUS blog] of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) [text; JURIST backgrounder] this term. Republicans have called on Justice Elena Kagan to step off the case based on her work as solicitor general under the Obama administration while Democrats insist that Justice Clarence Thomas not participate in the case due to his wife’s work with various groups opposing this health care reform. Lawmakers criticize the US Supreme Court’s ethical practices for employing less strict ethical standards than other federal courts. Though not directly mentioning the health care case, Roberts states in the report:
I have complete confidence in the capability of my colleagues to determine when recusal is warranted. They are jurists of exceptional integrity and experience whose character and fitness have been examined through a rigorous appointment and confirmation process. I know that they each give careful consideration to any recusal questions that arise in the course of their judicial duties. We are all deeply committed to the common interest in preserving the Court’s vital role as an impartial tribunal governed by the rule of law.
The Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the PPACA by the end of June.
In November, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments [JURIST report] on the constitutionality of the PPACA. The court granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in three separate cases, reserving five-and-half-hours for oral argument on the issue. The court agreed to hear two hours of arguments on the constitutionality of the individual insurance mandate issue in Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida [docket]. The court will consider Issue 1, which asks, “whether Congress had the power under Article I of the Constitution to enact the minimum coverage provision.” The court consolidated the cases of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius [docket] and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services [docket] and will hear 90 minutes of oral argument on the question of whether the individual mandate provision can be severed from the remainder of the act. All three cases that the court agreed to hear arose out of the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which ruled in August that the individual mandate is unconstitutional but severable [JURIST report], upholding the rest of the law.