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Congress, the Constitution, and Supreme Court Recusal

73 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2012 Last revised: 4 Feb 2013

Louis J. Virelli

Stetson University College of Law

Date Written: April 25, 2012


Recusal is one of the most hotly contested issues currently facing the Supreme Court. Within the wide-ranging debate over the Justices’ recusal practices, however, a singular theme has emerged: Congress must do more to protect the integrity and legitimacy of the Court by regulating the Justices’ recusal practices. Herein lies the problem. Rather than solve the puzzle of Supreme Court recusal, direct congressional regulation has created an impasse between Congress and the Court over recusal that has consequences for the reputation, efficacy, and legitimacy of both branches. In a precursor to this Article, I recast the issue of Supreme Court recusal as a constitutional question and argued that direct congressional regulation of Supreme Court recusal violates the separation of powers. This Article builds on that prior work and argues that separation of powers principles are critical to understanding and alleviating the inter-branch impasse over recusal. It contends that Congress, rather than the Court, should take the lead in resolving that impasse and that the separation of powers requires Congress to use indirect constitutional mechanisms to do so. Specifically, Congress should repeal the current statutory provision directly regulating Supreme Court recusal and focus instead on more indirect constitutional tools — such as impeachment, procedural reform, judicial confirmation, appropriations, and investigation — to influence the Justices’ recusal practices. This effort to frame the recusal debate within its proper constitutional context permits a more robust and productive dialogue about both the Justices’ recusal practices as well as the broader question of the nature and dynamics of inter-branch relations in our tripartite government.

Keywords: Recusal, supreme court

JEL Classification: K00, K4, K40

Suggested Citation

Virelli, Louis J., Congress, the Constitution, and Supreme Court Recusal (April 25, 2012). Washington and Lee Law Review, Vol. 69, No. 3, 2012; Stetson University College of Law Research Paper No. 2012-11. Available at SSRN:

Louis J. Virelli (Contact Author)

Stetson University College of Law ( email )

1401 61st Street South
Gulfport, FL 33707
United States
727-562-7329 (Phone)
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