Democrats on the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have asked Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett to recuse herself from a case involving the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a conservative nonprofit created by the Koch brothers with ties to a group that gave at least $1 million toward a national campaign to urge senators to confirm her nomination.
Democrat lawmakers, in a letter to Barrett, said that “just minutes after your nomination by former President (Donald) Trump last September,” Americans for Progress, a sister organization of Americans for Prosperity, announced its “full-scale campaign” to confirm her to the top court, reports NPR.
The letter was signed by Democrat Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, along with Rep. Hank Johnson, Jr., of Georgia. All three chair key judiciary subcommittees charged with court oversight.
The Americans for Prosperity Foundation case, which will be argued next week, challenges a California law requiring tax-exempt nonprofit organizations to attach an IRS form to their state tax filings that discloses the identities of large donors. The foundation wants a broad constitutional ruling that would keep the identities secret.
Barrett, during her confirmation hearing, would not answer if she’d recuse herself in the then-pending case. She told lawmakers that with the case, which had not been granted review, it “would not be appropriate for me as a judicial nominee to offer an opinion about such abstract issues or hypotheticals.”
However, the court agreed to review the case after Barrett’s confirmation, but there still has been no indication if she’ll recuse herself.
Americans for Progress, when announcing its push for her nomination, said it was launching a “significant national ad campaign focusing on 11 states” and that it would spend “in the seven figures,” or at least $1 million.
The Democrats’ letter also cites statutory provisions in federal law that govern judicial ethics and constitutional law that they say requires Barrett to either recuse herself or explain why she won’t.
Meanwhile, Barrett is also facing scrutiny after reports that she’s received a $2 million advance for an upcoming book, with publishing industry sources saying her writing will focus on judges not allowing personal feelings to influence rulings.
She was the last of Trump’s three Supreme Court picks.
Legal ethicists say the Democrats’ push for recusal is serious.
NYU law professor Stephen Gillers told NPR the letter is “not a nothingburger.”
He explained that under the rules of judicial conduct, which are codified under federal law, “any justice, judge, or magistrate judges of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality may be questioned.”
Gillers said the standard for that statute is not whether a judge himself or herself thinks they are biased, but whether a reasonable or objective person would have doubts about the judge being able to remain impartial.
“I think the answer is that a reasonable person would have such doubts,” said Gillers, who also pointed out that the case is coming before the Supreme Court only about 6 months after Barrett’s confirmation.