Class Warfare Blog

February 7, 2011

To Recuse or Not Recuse, That Is the Question

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 2:01 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

It is common practice for judges to recuse themselves from cases in which they have substantial interests. For example, a judge who is scheduled to hear a case in which one of the parties was someone he or she represented back when they were an attorney is expected to step away from that case and have another judge hear it. (The word recuse comes from Latin roots meaning to refuse.) This is currently in the news as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is expected to soon hear the case regarding the constitutionality of the America’s Healthy Future Act (actual name of the final health care bill, no, really!) while his wife has been selling her ability to affect the outcome of such cases and has actively worked to defeat the health care bill while it was being crafted. (She has already stated in print that the bill is unconstitutional!) Since there is no superior court to overrule a case in which a Supreme Court Justice does not recuse him- or herself in error, this judgment is left entirely to the justices themselves, hence the problem if Justice Thomas doesn’t recuse himself. (Not even the Chief Justice has a say as he is in a “first among equals” situation.)

That issue aside, I find it funny that judges espouse the practice of recusing cases to uphold the integrity of the judiciary but apparently we all are very comfortable having our elected officials voting on measures for which principal parties have “donated” huge sums of money to those officials in spite of the fact that we have laws against “influence peddling” (essentially buying/selling the votes or decisions of our officials). So, why aren’t we screaming bloody murder when Congressmen who have accepted hefty “donations” (the new civility prevents me from calling them bribes) from the health care industry, for example, actual vote on health care measures, measures that directly affect the well-being of the businesses making the donations? Is it just because we are used to this?

The only solution to this problem I can see is the one I have proposed already. Elected officials must be allowed to only collect political contributions from people and businesses in their districts. People and businesses in Arizona have no business chiming in on who gets elected Senator in Maine. That is the business of the people in Maine. If your permanent address or the address of your business’s headquarters is in Arizona, you can directly influence the senatorial elections in Arizona, but not all over the country. You still have free speech rights, but you or your business should not be allowed to donate directly to a campaign in another district nor should you be allowed to coordinate your efforts with that campaign. If you want to buy print and TV ads to support a candidate out of your district, you may exercise your free speech rights of course, but these ads must be clearly labeled at the top and bottom with the words “Paid For by Outsiders” so voters can tell where that speech is coming from. We have tried to regulate such free speech by requiring that all of such ads be identified as to who paid the bills, but all we got was “Paid for by Citizens for Creative Action, . . . Moms for Motherhood, . . . the Family Values Council,” etc. Political action committees were set up to front for the actual donors and we were still in the dark. “Paid for by Outsiders” is all of the information voters need to distinguish information from someone who will be impacted by decisions of the official being elected from someone trying to buy influence with that official.

I would go further and include all ballot measures in this scheme. Why groups in Utah were spending millions of dollars to help defeat Prop. 8 in California is beyond me, but that proposition was the business of the people in California to decide and not the people from other states.

And I know there are politicians who claim that they don’t vote for health care business interests (for example) because they got donations from health care insurance companies, but they got the money because of their votes. If any of you out there believe this, you really must ask the question why it was that newbie senatorial candidates in the recent mid-term elections were rushing to Washington to do fundraisers the day after they got their party’s nominations. It is the money that gets them elected in the first place and it is the money that makes them beholden to those who gave it to them. If you do not understand this, I have some great “wetlands” property I want to sell you in Florida.

As more and more of this county’s wealth gets concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the opportunity for this nascent oligarchy to just control things monetarily is immense. While many of the health care reform act opponents railed against the 2200 page length of the beastie, I don’t hear them complaining likewise about the length of the current tax code which dwarfs the puny health care bill. And 80% of our tax code describes specific perks for specific (mostly business) interests. With the wealthy owning Congress, expect those pages to expand. It is not by accident than two thirds of U.S. corporations paid no taxes last year.

If common decency and tradition don’t do the job, then we must reset the rules of the game. Would that we could institute voting recusals as a hallowed tradition of Congress.

1 Comment »

  1. your good


    Comment by kathy — February 19, 2011 @ 4:04 pm | Reply

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