SCOTUS Justice Sonia Sotomayor Recuses From Colorado Electoral College Case, Citing Friendship With Polly Baca

March 10, 2020
ap_18024022978075ap_18024022978075Elaine Thompson/AP Photo
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speaks at a civics event in January in Seattle.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has recused herself from a Colorado case coming in front of the high court, citing a friendship with one of the original respondents in the case.

The case, Colorado Department of State v. Baca, could decide the future of the power of states to bind Electoral College electors to voter preferences in presidential elections. Oral arguments are scheduled to be heard in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on April 28.

Sotomayor’s clerk released a one paragraph letter Tuesday recusing the justice from the case, citing a long friendship with Polly Baca.

Baca, originally of Weld County, is a longtime fixture in Colorado Democratic politics who served in both the State House and State Senate. She is a member of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. She attended Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings in the Senate, and hosted a party in Denver after the justice was confirmed.

“The Justice believes that her impartiality might reasonably be questioned due to her friendship with respondent Polly Baca,” Clerk Scott Harris wrote. “The initial conflict check conducted in Justice Sotomayor’s Chambers did not identify this potential conflict.”

The original Colorado case started after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump in Colorado. Three Democratic electors announced an intention to vote for someone other than Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote in the state.

Two eventually backed down, but one, Micheal Baca, wrote in now-former Gov. John Kasich for president. He was removed by then-Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and replaced with an elector who picked Clinton.

Michael Baca and the two others, Polly Baca (who is not related), and Robert Nemanich, sued after his removal. 

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that Baca was legally able to challenge his removal as an elector.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Attorney General Phil Weiser appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, arguing electors should be legally bound to represent the state’s voters. The electors argue that, constitutionally, they have the freedom to be independent.

Colorado’s case was going to be paired with a similar case in Washington state — but that case will be heard separately, it was announced. That means both sides in both cases will have more time to make arguments.

“We’ll get more time to discuss these cases, which is great,” said Jason Harrow, chief counsel for Equal Citizens, representing electors in the Colorado and Washington state cases. “Better to have more than less and it also gives the states more time ... We think this issue is really important.’’