WASHINGTON -- The calls for Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from the health care cases to be heard in March took a theatrical turn at the Supreme Court on Friday morning as two liberal advocacy groups unspooled a petition containing over 100,000 signatures stretching about 300 feet from the sidewalk to the Court's steps. The stunt, however, was quickly stymied by swirling morning winds that tangled and tore the taped-together pieces of paper containing the names and comments of the petition's signatories.
The petition, organized by Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and The Other 98%, cites a federal law requiring judges to recuse themselves when their "impartiality might be reasonably questioned." Justice Thomas's wife, Virginia Thomas, has been a vocal antagonist of the Affordable Care Act and has made a living lobbying against the law as the founder of the Tea Party group Liberty Central.
"If Justice Thomas fails to recuse himself, it will threaten the integrity of the entire Supreme Court," HCAN Executive Director Ethan Rome said in a press release Thursday announcing the petition delivery. "Justice Thomas personally has aligned himself with conservative zealots and extremist organizations dedicated to throwing out the law. Unbelievably, on the same day the high court took this case, he and Associate Justice Antonin Scalia were honored at a dinner sponsored by the law firm that will argue the case before the high court. Justice Thomas spoke at a secret conclave run by the billionaire Koch Brothers to raise funds for extremist front groups like Americans for Prosperity."
Conservative groups, seizing on the same recusal rules animating Friday's protest, have been agitating for Justice Elena Kagan to step aside from the health care cases due to several emails she sent on the eve of Congress' passing the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, while serving as U.S. Solicitor General.
"I hear they have the votes, Larry!! Simply amazing," Kagan wrote to her former Harvard Law colleague Professor Laurence Tribe, who at the time was also an adviser at the Justice Department.
Grassfire Nation, a right-wing grassroots organization, has been collecting names for its own petition to hand-deliver to Justice Kagan. The delivery, scheduled for this past Thursday, was postponed because the petition stalled about eight thousand names short of its 75,000 signature goal.
Meanwhile, signatures to HCAN and The Other 98%'s petition are still rolling in. The organizations will be providing the Court with an electronic version of their petition in the coming weeks, said an HCAN spokesperson.
Supreme Court justices, by constitutional design, are given life tenure to shield their decisions from such direct popular pressure that is often employed to influence the president and members of Congress. These petition drives, however, appear to come as last-ditch efforts to get through to a Court that has so far rebuffed more formal inquiries, including letters from senators, into its recusal standards.
"I have complete confidence in the capability of my colleagues to determine when recusal is warranted," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his 2011 Year-End Report.
Rather than put the matter to rest, Roberts' response provoked further criticism and inflammatory remarks. "The comments of Chief Justice Roberts are an affront to the high ethical standards of our Founding Fathers and amount to a subversion of our laws," wrote conservative watchdog group Freedom Works in a motion submitted to the Court in January arguing for Kagan's dismissal from the health care cases.
Freedom Works' motion, which accused the Court of "selling out 'We the People,'" was denied late last month.