(for the other 95% of America)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tea Party Influence Present in Highest State and Federal Courts

Judge Roger Vinson

Judge Roger Vinson, of Federal District Court in Penasacola, Florida, released a 78-page legal opinon on the ruling to strike down health care reform on Monday. But while the outcome of the ruling is not surprising, what is drawing a lot of attention is what seems to be a deliberate nod to a political movement and perhaps an instance of political bias by one of the state's highest court judges. "It is difficult to imagine," the opinion read, "that the nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place." Some commentators are even referring to the document as the 'Tea Party Manifesto." It is unclear so far how much damage this will do to the chances of health care repeal getting admitted to the Supreme Court, and that, in turn, depends on how much bad press the opinion gets.

But this is not the first time Americans have heard of radical Tea Party members peddling influence with the some of the most prestigious courts in America. Just last week it was reported that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke on Capitol Hill in a closed-door session with a group of conservative lawmakers. While it is proper for justices to interact with Congress, like any other job it requires an obligation on the judges part to at least act like they are being impartial. Jonathan Turley wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post Sunday about this, saying that "If justices come to personify political movements, the law appears to be merely an extension of the personalities -- and the politics -- of the bench."

Also recently in the news Virginia Thomas, Supreme Court Clarence Thomas's wife, has for decades worked for and received money from conservative think-tanks and political groups, but Justice Thomas has not reportedly made public where the money is coming from. Mrs. Thomas is the founder and head of a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group called Liberty Central, and because of the 501(C)(4) status she does not have to publicly disclose any of the contributors. But, the New York Times reported, "A federal law requires justices to recuse themselves in an number of circumstances where real or perceived conflicts of interest could arise, including in cases where their spouses could have a financial interest. But the decision to step aside is up to each justice; there is no appeal from the nation's highest court."

While Judge Vinson's ruling may not be taken up by the Supreme Court and very well could soon be invalidated, there are still serious questions remaining about the ability of justices who serve in state and federal courts to dissociate themselves with political groups when deciding upon matters that are to be influenced by the law, and only the law. How did we even get ourselves into this pathetic state of affairs?

Further Reading:

NY Times: Justice Scalia to Speak to Tea Party...
NY Times: Activism of Thomas's Wife Could Raise Judicial Issues
NY Times: Tea Party Shadows Health Care Ruling
Huffington Post: Florida Judge Rules Health Care Reform Unconstitutional

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