Democrats: Justice Thomas should recuse himself in healthcare reform case

A group of 73 House Democrats on Wednesday demanded U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recuse himself from any case examining the constitutionality of healthcare reform.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and 72 other colleagues wrote Thomas on Wednesday to ask him to sit out any Supreme Court review of President Obama's healthcare law, citing the work by Thomas's wife on behalf of efforts opposing that healthcare law.

"As members of Congress, we were surprised by recent revelations of your financial ties to leading organizations dedicated to lobbying against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," the Democrats wrote. "We write today to respectfully ask that you maintain the integrity of this court and recuse yourself from any deliberations on the constitutionality of this act."

The letter reflects the growing political gamesmanship on both sides of the aisle in regard to court challenges to healthcare reform.

For instance, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has called for Justice Elena Kagan to recuse herself in similar cases. Kagan had worked in the Obama administration as solicitor general, and Hatch argued this would bias her in any consideration of the healthcare law.

The legal challenges to the new healthcare law are ultimately expected to reach the high court. Two federal district courts have upheld healthcare reform as constitutional, while two courts have struck it down, most recently a federal judge in Florida, who threw out the entire law over concerns about the provision requiring all individuals to have health insurance, the so-called "individual mandate."

The efforts by the Democrats — and by Hatch — would presumably tip the balance on the Supreme Court going into any hearing about the law. The court is seen as leaning conservative, with a 5-4 majority, though Justice Anthony Kennedy is often seen as a potential swing vote.

The Democrats' demand in this instance is based on concerns about the political advocacy conducted by Ginny Thomas, a Tea Party and conservative activist. Mrs. Thomas advertises herself as a lobbyist for "clients who want a particular decision — they want to overturn health care reform," the Democrats said.

"Given these facts, there is a strong conflict between the Thomas household’s financial gain through your spouse’s activities and your role as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court," they wrote. "We urge you to recuse yourself from this case."

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