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Breyer recuses self in Monsanto; Critics ask: why didn’t Thomas?

During oral arguments at the Supreme Court yesterday in the case Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farm, involving a court-imposed ban on the sale of genetically-altered alfalfa plants, Justice Stephen Breyer was not present.

That’s because the justice recused himself from hearing the case. His brother, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer, was the trial judge in the case, so there was a conflict.

Breyer wasn’t the only justice with ties to the case. Justice Clarence Thomas once served as corporate counsel for the petitioner company Monsanto Co. And that has some environmentalists wondering why he too did not excuse himself from the case’s consideration.

This isn’t the first time Thomas’s stint at Monsanto has raised questions from critics. In the film “Food, Inc.,” which is critical of the genetically-modified food industry, Thomas’s connection to Monsanto is highlighted – particularly a 2001 Court opinion authored by Thomas that allowed companies like Monsanto to patent hybrid seeds.

After the film’s release, Monsanto issued a statement about Thomas’ connection to the company.

“Clarence Thomas worked for Monsanto for a few years but has not been employed by Monsanto since the 1970s, long before the company was involved in biotechnology or owned a seed business,” the statement read. “While Justice Thomas indeed wrote the majority opinion, this was a 6-2 decision. Justice Thomas was joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist, and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Souter and Ginsberg – none of whom have or had any association with Monsanto.”

One comment

  1. I respect Justice Thomas for achieving one of the most prestigious positions in the legal profession, and against very difficult odds while growing up black in the South. However, he is absolutely wrong for failing to recuse himself in this case and his fellow justices are just as wrong for not insisting upon it. As attorneys and judges know and are supposed to practice, we are to avoid even the appearance of bias or prejudice in our legal lives. Justice Thomas and his colleagues have let us all down.

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