U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Tuesday recused herself from presiding over an upcoming case involving one of her friends, informing the legal representatives from both parties that her impartiality in the case might “reasonably be questioned” were she to participate in Colorado Department of State v. Micheal Baca. This is a case involving the role of electors in the electoral college.
“I am writing to inform the parties that Justice Sotomayor has determined that she will not continue to participate in this case,” Supreme Court Clerk Scott S. Harris wrote in a letter to the parties. “The Justice believes that her impartiality might reasonably be questioned due to her friendship with respondent Polly Baca. The initial conflict check conducted in Justice Sotomayor’s Chambers did not identify this potential conflict.”
NEW: Justice Sotomayor recuses from one of the two faithless elector cases due to friendship with Polly Baca, a Democratic lawmaker in Colorado. Court decides to delink cases and consider them separately, with Sotomayor only participating in one. pic.twitter.com/wv3wgxcjZj
— Kimberly Robinson (@KimberlyRobinsn) March 10, 2020
The Baca case stems from three Presidential Electors: Polly Baca, Micheal Baca (no relation to Polly), and Robert Nemanich. They were appointed to cast Colorado’s electoral college votes in the 2016 presidential election. Despite a state law requiring the electors to vote for whichever candidate won the state’s popular vote, in this case Hillary Clinton, the trio instead tried to vote for Republican John Kasich in an attempt to prevent Donald Trump from winning the 270 electoral votes needed to become president.
While Polly Baca and Nemanich eventually voted for Clinton, Micheal Baca refused, and was replaced with a different elector by Colorado’s secretary of state. Micheal Baca challenged his removal as a Presidential Elector and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in August ruled that it was unconstitutional. Colorado appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which agreed in January to hear the case.
Polly Baca, a former Colorado state senator, has a friendship with Justice Sotomayor that dates back decades – with Sotomayor even reserving Baca a front-row seat for her 2009 confirmation hearing.
In February, President Trump demanded Justices Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg recuse themselves “on all Trump or Trump related matters.”
[image via smithsonian national portrait gallery screengrab]