Arizona Supreme Court Judge Recuses Himself from Abortion Case
An Arizona Supreme Court judge has announced his recusal from a case that could affect the future of abortion access in the state. The case revolves around a lawsuit over whether a near-total abortion ban from 1864 should be reinstated, carrying with it mandatory prison time for doctors who perform abortions for any reason other than saving the patient’s life. The ban was temporarily in place last year, but the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that a 2022 law banning abortions after 15 weeks should be the law of the land instead.
However, the case was revived when a local anti-abortion doctor appealed, seeking to convince the state supreme court to reverse the lower court’s decision and make the procedure illegal in virtually all cases.
The Judge’s Accusation and Initial Refusal to Recuse Himself
Arizona Supreme Court Justice Bill Montgomery, who had previously accused Planned Parenthood of committing genocide, was called upon by the organization to recuse himself from the case. In response, Montgomery dismissed the request, arguing that his criticism had been directed towards Planned Parenthood’s national organization rather than its local affiliate. Moreover, he had made no comments indicating his position on abortion since then. Additionally, Montgomery contended that his actions as a Maricopa County Attorney, which included attending a protest in front of Planned Parenthood of Arizona’s headquarters in 2015, are not bound by the same ethical rules he today follows as a judge.
Currently, the Code of Judicial Conduct advises judges to recuse themselves when their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” particularly when said judge has a personal bias against one of the parties or lawyers involved in a case. Montgomery believed that the code did not apply to him since he was not a member of the judiciary when he made those statements in 2015 and 2017, nor was he a candidate for judicial office.
The Judge’s Decision to Recuse Himself
Much to the relief of Planned Parenthood, Montgomery changed course and issued a new order announcing his decision to recuse himself on Thursday. Montgomery acknowledged that judges should continuously consider whether recusal is necessary under the state’s judicial code of conduct guidelines. He added that “additional information”, related to the parties involved in the case, had come to light since his initial rejection of Planned Parenthood Arizona’s request that warranted his recusal. However, he did not tell what the information might be, and a spokesperson for the Arizona Supreme Court did not provide any further details.
Planned Parenthood Arizona expressed satisfaction over Montgomery’s recusal, stating that his decision reinforces the organization’s right to a fair trial. “We welcome today’s order and believe the information we presented in our motion was more than sufficient” said Kelley Dupps, a Planned Parenthood spokesperson. “We believe that all litigants in Arizona are entitled to have their cases heard by judges who are not biased against them, and that includes Planned Parenthood Arizona.”
Montgomery’s decision to recuse himself from a case involving a group he previously accused of committing genocide could bolster the trust that Arizonians have in their legal system. Though a conservative state, Arizona’s voters have demonstrated their support for reproductive freedom by rejecting near-total abortion bans and supporting a medically-grounded approach to abortion legislation. As the procedure’s future in the state remains uncertain, it will be worth watching to see what comes next.
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Anti-abortion judge recuses himself from Arizona …
Arizona judge recuses himself from abortion arguments