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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Courts - More on: "Case May Alter Judge Elections Across Country "

The case of Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal, No. 08-22, which will be argued before the SCOTUS on March 3, and about which the ILB has posted many times before, including most recently Feb. 15th, is featured today in a lengthy USA Today story by Joan Biskupic, headlined "Supreme Court case with the feel of a best seller." Some quotes:

The decade-long dispute, a reflection of the growing questions surrounding judicial elections, tests whether an elected judge's refusal to take himself off a case involving a chief financial backer is unconstitutional. * * *

A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll this month found 89% of those surveyed believe the influence of campaign contributions on judges' rulings is a problem, and 52% deem it a "major" problem. More than 90% of the 1,027 adults surveyed said judges should be removed from a case if it involves an individual or group that contributed to the judge's election campaign.

The West Virginia dispute spotlights the dramatic rise in campaign money in judicial elections. From 2000 to 2007, $168 million was spent on contested elections for states' highest courts, up from $87 million from 1990 to 1999, reports the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice, a legal group siding with Caperton.

Retired U.S. justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who often speaks about judicial independence, has referred to the caseas an example of possible courtroom bias. More than 40 groups, including the American Bar Association, have weighed in with 11 "friend of the court" briefs supporting Caperton.

Far fewer groups have lined up with Massey. However, seven states have backed Massey in a court filing and urged the justices to let states decide when their judges must disqualify themselves from a case. [ILB - the states are Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, and Utah - here is their amicus curiae brief.]

Caperton's "attempt to shoehorn" differences in states' judicial policies "into an overarching federal constitutional standard makes little practical sense," the states say.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 17, 2009 10:13 AM
Posted to Courts in general