Introduction I. Judicial Disqualification in American and Traditional Jewish Law A. The American Approach to Judicial Disqualification 1. The Underlying Goals of American Recusal Jurisprudence 2. Grounds for Disqualification in American Law a. Bias and the Appearance of Bias b. Financial Interest c. Familial Relationships d. Bribes and Gifts e. Prior Knowledge f. The Due Process Clause B. The Traditional Jewish Law of Judicial Disqualification and Recusal 1. Litigation, Courts, and Judges in the Halachic System: The Jurisprudential Aims of Jewish Disqualification Law 2. Grounds for Disqualification and Recusal in Jewish Law a. Disqualification to Maintain the Institutional Integrity of the Court i. Financial Interest ii. Familial Relationships iii. Bribes, Gifts, and Personal Favors iv. Advisory Opinions b. Voluntary Recusal to Preserve the Professional Integrity of the Judge i. Bias and the Appearance of Bias ii. Prior Knowledge c. Judges' Extralegal Duty to Treat Litigants Equally II. The American and Halachic Doctrines of Judicial Removal: A Comparison III. Moving in a New Direction: Toward a Duty-Focused Recusal Jurisprudence A. Problems with the Current American Doctrine 1. The Failure of Ad Hoc and Conclusory Recusal Doctrines to Adequately Protect Litigants from Biased Judgments 2. The Failure of Expansive Disqualification Doctrines to Promote Public Confidence in the Justice System 3. The Failure of Modern Recusal Law to Engender an Integrious Judiciary B. Duty-Focused Disqualification: Some Proposals 1. Thinking About the Roles of Courts and Judges in the American System of Adjudication 2. Curtail the Role of Mandatory Disqualification in Eliminating Judicial Bias 3. Expand Judges' Professional Obligation to Voluntarily Recuse 4. Ensure Sound Legal Judgments and Promote Integrious Judging Conclusion
One who grabs too much has not grabbed anything, but one that grabs just a little has surely grabbed that much.
--Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 80a
The United States Supreme Court's ruling that West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin's decision not to recuse himself from a case involving a major donor to his judicial election campaign violated Due Process (1) sparked a storm of interest in the (in)adequacy of the judicial disqualification system. (2) Contemporary recusal law makes conclusory determinations of actual or apparent judicial bias, resulting in an inconsistent doctrine that allows dishonest judges to resist recusal and supplant litigants' legal rights in favor of their own personal agendas. (3) The current approach also erodes public confidence in the justice system by under and over-enforcing bias-based recusal, (4) and its focus on top-down mandatory disqualification fails to adequately encourage judges to be personally and professionally integrious. (5)
This Note suggests that these problems might be mitigated by comprehensively rethinking our approach to judicial disqualification based on halacha, traditional Jewish law. (6) Halachic recusal law offers an alternative to the current American approach, a jurisprudence that is grounded in courts' and judges' personal and professional duties, and which empowers jurists to develop their own integrity by limiting mandatory disqualification and relying instead on judges' duty-consciousness and self-disciplining decisions to voluntarily recuse. …