A House judiciary subcommittee has scheduled a hearing for Dec. 10 on the recusal of judges.
The National Law Journal reported last month on lawmakers' renewed interest in the issue, including plans to examine the process that federal judges use to decide recusal motions. Judges now have wide discretion to decide on their own whether to step away from a case, though their decisions are appealable.
Other than the federal judiciary’s codes of conduct, the U.S. Supreme Court has no formal guidelines for when a justice must recuse from a case. Justices are not required to explain their recusal decisions — as evidenced by Justice John Paul Stevens' surprise recusal Wednesday — and the decisions are not appealable.
No witnesses have been announced for the hearing, which was originally scheduled for Oct. 20. Among those invited to appear for the earlier date were Indiana University law professor Charles Geyh, who has studies the recusal process, and Judge M. Margaret McKeown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, who is chairwoman of the Judicial Conference's Committee on Codes of Conduct.
The hearing will mark the first time Congress has addressed recusals in a significant way since 2004, when Democrats criticized Justice Antonin Scalia for declining to recuse in a case involving Vice President Dick Cheney. Scalia and Cheney were part of a group that went duck hunting in Louisiana while the case — involving records from Cheney’s energy task force — was pending. The nonprofits seeking the records eventually lost 7-2.