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Improve Transparency at the Supreme Court, FTC's Roth Writes in New York Times Letter

To the Editor:

The Supreme Court’s Secret Decisions,” by William Baude (Op-Ed, Feb. 3), about the little-known Supreme Court orders docket, which dispenses with most of the petitions that reach the high court without any explanation from the justices, underscores the lack of transparency that runs through the court’s practices.

In those same orders, the justices indicate which cases they have decided to abstain from ruling on because of a potential conflict of interests. But the nine never explain their reasons for recusal; instead, the orders simply state that a justice “took no part in the consideration or decision of” a given petition, leaving court watchers guessing.

Did the justice hear the case as a lower court judge? Is a family member or financial interest involved?

The public would benefit greatly not only from written explanations about the justices’ decisions to hear or pass on certain cases, as Mr. Baude suggests; we would also benefit from the addition of a simple phrase after a recusal notification — that a justice “took no part” since he or she “owns shares in one of the litigant companies,” or “worked on the case in a previous role.”

This simple fix would demonstrate that the court is truly serious about its ethical responsibilities.

The writer is executive director of Fix the Court, a national nonprofit.

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