Liteky v. United States

PETITIONER:Liteky et al.
RESPONDENT:United States
LOCATION:Colorado Springs, Colorado

DOCKET NO.: 92-6921
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 510 US 540 (1994)
ARGUED: Nov 03, 1993
DECIDED: Mar 07, 1994

Peter J. Thompson – on behalf of the Petitioners
Thomas G. Hungar – on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Liteky v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 03, 1993 in Liteky v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 07, 1994 in Liteky v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 92-6921, Liteky versus United States will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

This case is here on petition for certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Before enduring the petitioner’s 1991 trial on federal criminal charges, the district judge denied defense motions that he recuse himself pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 455(a) which requires a federal judge to ‘disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned”.

The first motion of the two motions to disqualify was based on rulings and statements the same judge had made which allegedly displayed impatience, disregard, and animosity towards the defense at one of the petitioner’s bench trial on similar charges eight years earlier in 1983.

The second motion was based on the judge’s admonishment of one of the petitioner’s counsel and co-defendants in front of the jury at the 1991 trial itself.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions agreeing with the district judge that matters are rising from judicial proceedings are not a proper basis for recusal.

In a decision announced today, we affirm the Eleventh Circuit and hold that required recusal under Section 455(a) is subject to the limitation that has come to be known as the extrajudicial source doctrine.

The extrajudicial source doctrine predates to current Section 455.

It was originally developed under Section 144 of Title 28 which requires disqualification for “personal bias or prejudice”.

That phrase is repeated in Section 455 but not in Subsection (a).

It is contained in Section 455(b)(1).

The textural basis for the doctrine, the extrajudicial source doctrine is, we believe, the pejorative connotation of the words bias or prejudice which indicate a judicial predisposition that is wrongful or inappropriate.

Because the term partiality in Section 455(a) similarly refers only to such favoritism as is for some reason wrongful or inappropriate, Section 455(a)’s requirement of recusal whenever there exist genuine question concerning the judge’s impartiality does not preclude application of the extrajudicial source doctrine.

To think otherwise would cause Section 455 in a significant sense to contradict itself since, as petitioners acknowledged, Subsection (b)(1) embodies the doctrine and Subsection (a) duplicates Subsection (b)’s protection with regard to bias and prejudice.

It is, however, preferable to speak of the existence of an extrajudicial source factor rather than of a doctrine because the presence of such a source does not necessarily establish bias and its absence does not necessarily preclude bias.

From our decision today, two consequences flow: First, judicial rulings alone almost never constitute valid basis for a bias or partiality recusal motion.

Apart from surrounding comments or accompanying opinion rulings alone cannot possibly show reliance on an extrajudicial source, and absent such reliance, they require recusal only when the evidence such deep-seated favoritism or antagonism as would make fair judgment impossible.

Secondly, opinions formed by the judge on the basis of facts introduced or events occurring during current or prior proceedings are not grounds for a recusal motion unless they display a similar degree of favoritism or antagonism.

Applying these principles to the present case, we find that none of the grounds petitioners assert required disqualification.

They consist of judicial rulings, routine trial, administration efforts, and ordinary admonishments to counsel and to witnesses, all occurred in the course of judicial proceedings and neither, one, relied upon knowledge acquired outside such proceedings nor, two, displayed deep-seated, and unequivocal antagonism that would render fair judgment impossible.

Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Eleventh Circuit.

Justice Kennedy has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in which Justices Blackmun, Stevens, and Souter have joined.