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Justice Stephen Breyer unconcerned on colleague's Tea Party wife

Justice Breyer testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington
Justice Breyer testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington

By Sarah McBride

ASPEN, Co. (Reuters) - Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has raised concerns with her role in the Tea Party and her lobbyist career, but not for one of his colleagues -- Justice Stephen Breyer.

"This is a false issue in my mind," Breyer told the audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Wednesday in response to a question about whether judges should recuse themselves from cases if their spouses worked in related fields.

"A wife or husband is an independent person, and they make up their own minds what their career is going to be," said Breyer, a liberal who frequently disagrees with the conservative Thomas in court decisions.

Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, also on the panel, said such situations were left to the "good judgment" of the justices.

"If there's a real question, they discuss it with their colleagues, and get advice from their colleagues on what to do," she said.

Breyer said his own wife's career as a psychologist did not stop him from sitting on cases involving psychology.

Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer told Reuters after the event that people who object to the Thomas situation typically disagree with him on ideological grounds rather than truly believing his wife's activities are inappropriate for the spouse of a justice.

"This isn't going to influence his views," said Kramer, who also was on the panel. "His view are already well formed and well known."

Earlier this year, some liberal groups asked Thomas to recuse himself from a case challenging a major healthcare law because his wife is part of the Tea Party -- a conservative group which opposes the law. A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday upheld the law, handing a victory to the White House by ruling Congress had the power to require Americans to buy insurance.

Some conservative groups have said liberal Justice Elena Kagan should recuse herself from the healthcare law because she previously served in the Obama administration as solicitor general.

But neither Kagan nor Thomas recused themselves when the Supreme Court in April rejected Virginia's request to speed up consideration of the healthcare law.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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