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Crisis Of The Half-Justice

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This column was written by Ramesh Ponnuru.
If President Bush nominates Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, he won't be naming a new justice. He'll be naming something more like a new half-justice.

A Justice Gonzales would have to recuse himself from cases dealing with a wide range of issues -- from the Patriot Act to partial-birth abortion -- because of his high-level service in the Bush administration.

Federal law is clear: No federal judge, including any Supreme Court justice, may participate in a case if he "has served in governmental employment and in such capacity participated as counsel, advisor or material witness concerning the proceeding or expressed an opinion concerning the merits of the particular case in controversy." In addition, justices are to recuse themselves "in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." Given that Gonzales was Bush's White House counsel for the entirety of his first term, and is now attorney general, that means he will have to decline to participate in a lot of important cases.