U.S. Supreme Court

High Court to Decide if Big Judicial Contributions Trigger Recusal

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the Constitution required the recusal of a West Virginia Supreme Court justice who received more than $3 million in contributions from a coal mining executive.

The U.S. Supreme Court accepted the case on Friday. The New York Times, Legal Times and the Wall Street Journal all reported the news. The case “could trigger the court’s first major review of the impact of increasingly costly judicial elections on the appearance and reality of justice at the state level,” the Legal Times story says.

Justice Brent Benjamin had twice voted with a 3-2 majority to overturn a $50 million verdict against the Massey Energy Co. after receiving more than $3 million from the company’s CEO. The ABA had urged the Supreme Court to take the case, Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Co.

The plaintiffs, who had claimed Massey Energy drove them out of business, maintain the due process clause required Benjamin to decline to hear the case. Massey Energy counters that recusal is not required unless there is proof of actual bias.

The plaintiffs are represented by former solicitor general Theodore Olson of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and David Fawcett of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, the Legal Times story says. “The question at issue here is central to the future of our court system,” Fawcett said in a statement.

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