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Justice Sotomayor: Mum's the Word on Recusals

When NML Capital and other hedge funds brought lawsuits against Argentina on behalf of bondholders who refused to accept reduced payments after the country’s 2001 default, the court was asked to halt the suits, but the justices allowed them to proceed.

But only eight votes were cast, as Justice Sotomayor sat out in both 2014 cases. “As is the court’s custom,” reported the New York Times at the time, Sotomayor “offered no explanation for the move.” Though relatively new to the court, the second most junior justice is already following one of its most opaque practices.

The Supreme Court does not require justices to explain the reasons for their recusals, and it’s clear why this opaque practice must end. While we do not assume Justice Sotomayor and her colleagues to be acting improperly, there is no reason for them to hide behind this antiquated practice that leave the media and members of the public guessing if and when a justice has a potential conflict of interest.

Fix the Court is calling on Chief Justice Roberts to establish a formal recusal reporting procedure in which justices would submit the reason for their recusal to the court’s Public Information Office, which would then post the reason on the court’s website. And we’re calling on the court to make it easier for attorneys and members of the public to file a request for recusal in any case.

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