Scalia's conflict of interest
A case challenging the constitutionality of a buffer zone designed to protect women's health clinic workers and patients from harassment by anti-choice activists is being considered by the Supreme Court, and Justice Antonin Scalia has a supreme conflict of interest.
Justice Scalia’s wife, Maureen, has a long history of working closely with crisis pregnancy centers -- as a “crisis counselor” and associate director of a center in Virginia, and as a board member of a national crisis pregnancy organization which tries to persuade women in “crisis pregnancies” to forego abortions.1
With such a tight connection between his wife’s work and this case, it’s clear that Justice Scalia can’t be impartial and should recuse himself.
Many crisis pregnancy centers post “sidewalk counselors” outside abortion providers to confront women seeking reproductive healthcare including abortion. While no one has accused Justice Scalia's wife of individual misconduct, it is well documented that crisis pregnancy centers contribute to an atmosphere outside clinics that infringes on patients’ ability to freely and safely access medical care. These organizations have a well-documented history of using lies and misinformation to manipulate women who are trying to access abortions or simply trying to make well-informed decisions about their pregnancies. In fact, just this week, Google announced it was taking down the deceptive ads that crisis pregnancy centers use online to trick women seeking abortion care into contacting them instead of legitimate abortion providers.2
McCullen v. Coakley, which was argued before the court in January, challenges a Massachusetts law that imposes a 35-foot buffer zone at all abortion clinics in the state. During oral arguments, Justice Scalia echoed the critiques of anti-choice protesters, saying that anti-choicers just “want to speak quietly in a friendly manner.”
The idea that buffer zones are targeting anti-choice activists who simply want to speak quietly to patients is clearly false. There is ample documentation of patients, clinic workers, and clinic escorts being forced to endure screaming, physical harassment, invasive videotaping and even physical injuries just for trying to access constitutionally protected health care. Buffer zones are working well in many communities, striking a constitutional balance between the rights of patients to access medical care and the free speech rights of anti-abortion protesters. If the Massachusetts law is struck down, it makes it that much harder for communities to protect women who are exercising their constitutional right to access abortion from harassment by, and potential violence from, anti-woman and anti-choice extremists.
Supreme Court Justices are entrusted with the responsibility to exercise the highest degree of discretion and impartiality when deciding a case. And while they have avoided adopting a code of ethics like other federal judges, they are obligated, according to the Federal Judicial Disqualification statute, 28 USC 455(a), which applies to all federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, to disqualify themselves in any proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
It’s completely reasonable that Justice Scalia’s impartiality might be questioned in this case, which relates directly to a major part of his wife’s work for the last two decades. He should recuse himself.
- “Scalia’s recusal dilemma: Is he conflicted on antiabortion “sidewalk counselors”?,” Lauren Rankin, Salon, 4/21/14.
- “NARAL successfully lobbies Google to take down ‘deceptive’ pregnancy center ads ,” Hayley Tsukayama, Washington Post, 4/28/14.