The case we have mentioned in a previous issue, relating to when elected judges must step aside from cases in which there would be at least an appearance of bias if they took part, has now been argued in the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue is whether judges in such cases should be allowed to hear these cases. During lively arguments in the closely-watched case from West Virginia, five justices expressed support for a ruling that the Constitution’s guarantee of a fair trial could require judges not to participate in a case in which there was a likelihood of bias. Interestingly, the groups who are supporting a ruling in favor of the judge are those who also have supported tort reform.
Judges are elected in 39 states and candidates for the highest state courts have raised more than $168 million since 2000, according to Justice at Stake, which tracks campaign spending in judicial elections. The losing party in the West Virginia case, Harman Mining Corp., and its president, Hugh Caperton, asked the justices on the high court to rule that the judge in question’s refusal to step aside from the case violated their constitutional right to due process. They argued that several factors combine to create an “overwhelming probability” that the judge in question would not be impartial, including the size of the campaign support and the fact that it represented more than half the money spent on his behalf. Interestingly, the money mostly went to an independent group that ran television ads against the judge’s opponent. That sure does sound like a tactic used in Alabama by groups which have spent millions in our state’s Supreme Court elections.
In addition, the judge in West Virginia made the decision to remain on the case by himself, not subject to review by his fellow justices. Other states, but not the U.S. Supreme Court, let the whole court review recusal decisions. This case is being closely watched by former judges and interest groups on both sides of the debate over campaign contributions. Hopefully, Congress will get the message – regardless of how the case turns out – that campaign finance reform for all judicial races is needed.
Source: Associated Press
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