It was quite refreshing to hear a high-ranking legal official, such as former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Judge Ronald Castille, state why he chose not to step aside from a case in which there was a perceived conflict of interests.
His “I wasn’t really involved in the case except as the leader of the [district attorney’s] office [in the 1980s]” is astoundingly much greater detail than is typically given by our nation’s top jurists on potentially thorny issues, as it is the practice of federal judges and Supreme Court justices to obscure their reasoning on whether to recuse, even when the public calls for it.
For example, Justices Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan never said why they thought it judicious to hear the Obamacare cases, even as the wife of the former worked to quash the law, and the latter led the White House legal team at the time of its passage.
While it is possible that neither justice was bound by the federal recusal statute to step aside, neither took the practical step of reassuring the public of their impartiality in the matter.
A more sensible and transparent course would be for the justices to follow Judge Castille’s lead, albeit before the fact and not after, and publicize their reason for recusal or for deciding to hear a case in spite of a perceived conflict.