By BRENT KENDALL
September 28, 2010
WASHINGTON—Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. recently sold his stock holdings in Pfizer Inc., which clears him to participate in two cases involving the drug maker that are pending on the Supreme Court’s docket.
Justice Roberts, through a court spokeswoman, confirmed that he sold his Pfizer holdings on Aug. 31.
Justice Roberts’s participation means the court will not be as short-handed in the coming Pfizer cases, in which the court’s newest justice, Elena Kagan, is recused. Justice Kagan is sitting out several cases this term because she was involved in them previously when she served as U.S. solicitor general.
The chief justice’s involvement, however, means eight justices will hear the two cases, raising the possibility that one or both could result in a 4-4 tie.
Justice Roberts’s most recent financial disclosure form, for the 2009 calendar year, indicated that he held $15,000 or less of Pfizer stock, a financial position that has forced him to recuse from previous high court matters involving the New York-based drug maker.
Federal judges are required to recuse themselves in cases in which they hold a personal financial interest.
Two recent written orders by the Supreme Court indicate that Justice Roberts is now participating in the Pfizer cases.
On Tuesday, the court agreed to hear an appeal by several drug makers, including Pfizer, that challenges a California lawsuit alleging the companies have overcharged federally funded hospitals and clinics for prescription drugs.
The court’s written order accepting the case for review did not indicate that Justice Roberts would sit out.
In another case, the court is preparing to hear oral arguments next month to decide whether a federal law on vaccine injuries shields vaccine makers from certain types of product-liability lawsuits.
The case centers on a Pennsylvania lawsuit in which parents alleged that their 6-month-old daughter developed residual seizure disorder after receiving a vaccine manufactured by Wyeth, which is now a unit of Pfizer.
When the court announced in March that it would hear the case, it indicated that Justice Roberts was not participating. However, a recent docket entry this month no longer indicates that Justice Roberts is sitting out. The Sept. 3 entry notes only that Justice Kagan is recused.
If the court splits evenly in either case, the lower court ruling would be affirmed.