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Chief Justice Roberts Responds to Judicial Ethics Critics

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Chief Justice John Roberts issued a ringing endorsement Saturday night of his colleagues’ ability to determine when they should step down from a case because of a conflict of interest.

“I have complete confidence in the capability of my colleagues to determine when recusal is warranted. ” Roberts wrote in his annual report on the Federal Judiciary. “They are jurists of exceptional integrity and experience whose character and fitness have been examined through a rigorous appointment and confirmation process.”

Roberts took the unusual step of devoting the majority of his annual report to the issue of judicial ethics, noting that he wanted to address issues that had “recently drawn public attention.”

In the past several months members of Congress and public interest groups on both sides of the ideological spectrum have demanded  that Justices -- with potentially opposing views -- recuse themselves from hearing the blockbuster health care case at the end of March.

Conservatives have focused on Justice Elena Kagan, arguing that her previous job of Solicitor General in the Obama administration should disqualify her from hearing the challenge to the law. During her confirmation hearings Kagan testified, under oath, that she had not played a substantial role in the case. Liberal groups have targeted Justice Clarence Thomas because of his wife’s ties to a group opposing the health care law.

Recusal issues are left up to the individual Justice, and neither Thomas nor Kagan has indicated that they will not participate fully in the case.

Robert’s reports comes at a time the court is under intense scrutiny by some presidential candidates, and before it hears several hot button cases—health care, immigration, voter’s rights–that will be decided in the heart of the next election campaign.

“[A]t the end of the day,” Roberts writes, “no compilation of ethical rules can guarantee integrity. Judges must exercise both constant vigilance and good judgment to fulfill the obligations they have all taken since the beginning of the Republic.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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