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By Mae Slater on
 May 22, 2024

Two Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson Recuse Themselves in Guantanamo Bay Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down the appeal of Omar Khadr, a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, with two justices opting out of participation in a rare move.

Newsweek reported that this decision sees Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson recusing themselves, highlighting conflicts of interest often unseen in the current term.

The Supreme Court considered arguments concerning Khadr on Monday, as he sought to overturn his war crimes convictions. Khadr, a Canadian national, was implicated in the death of a U.S. soldier during a 2002 combat operation in Afghanistan.

Khadr’s legal woes began when he pled guilty to various charges, including murder, in 2010. This plea agreement consequently nullified his right to appeal.

Background of Khadr’s Legal Battle

Despite his guilty plea, Khadr's legal team argued for a reassessment, citing a ruling in Washington, D.C., that potentially questioned the validity of his charges. However, the Supreme Court ultimately rejected this appeal.

After being sentenced to eight years in prison, Khadr was transferred to Guantanamo Bay. It was not until 2015 that he secured bail, and he fully completed his sentence in 2019.

Adding a layer of complexity, Justices Kavanaugh and Jackson chose to recuse themselves from the decision-making process. This action is noteworthy given its rarity, underscoring the importance of maintaining judicial impartiality.

The recusals from Justices Kavanaugh and Jackson were driven by their prior involvement in Khadr’s case as judges in appeals courts. Such recusals align with the ethical standards set forth in the judicial code of conduct.

"The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied. Justice Kavanaugh took no part in the consideration or decision of this petition. Justice Jackson took no part in the consideration or decision of this petition. See 28 U. S .C. §455 and Code of Conduct for Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, Canon 3B(2)(e) (prior judicial service)," stated the Court's document on Monday.

Monday's case is one of several where justices have recused themselves due to potential conflicts of interest. Such actions emphasize the importance of fairness and impartiality in the highest court of the land.

Historical Context of Judicial Recusals

In January, all six conservative justices recused themselves from the MacTruong v. Abbott case. This case, which revolved around the Texas Heartbeat Act, named the justices as defendants, prompting their withdrawal.

The conservative justices involved were Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. Their collective recusal left a significant mark on the case.

Moreover, in 2022, conservative justices also opted out of another case, Truong, Mac v. Stitt, Kevin, et al., dealing with abortion restrictions in Oklahoma. The involvement of Virginia "Ginni" Thomas as a defendant further complicated the matter.

The recurring theme of judicial recusals underscores the delicate nature of maintaining integrity and impartiality within the Supreme Court. Recusals, though rare, are sometimes necessary to uphold public confidence in the justice system.

Omar Khadr’s case serves as a poignant example of how intricate legal histories and ethical considerations can intersect at the highest levels of the judiciary. His journey from confessing to war crimes to seeking vindication highlights enduring legal complexities.

The Supreme Court’s adherence to stringent ethical standards, as reflected in the recent recusals, continues to shape the landscape of American jurisprudence. Each decision made under these standards fortifies the credibility of the judicial process.


The Supreme Court's rejection of Omar Khadr's appeal and the rare recusal of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson illuminate ongoing efforts to maintain judicial integrity. This episode, alongside other recusal instances, emphasizes the Court's commitment to impartiality in the face of potential conflicts. The ethical intricacies of the judiciary ensure that justice remains fair and unbiased, both now and in future deliberations.

Written By:
Mae Slater

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