An AAJ article today reported on the case of Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. in which the Court held in a 5-4 decision that state court judges that get big campaign contributions cannot sit in judgment of their biggest contributors. In this due process decision the court ruled that a judge must step down when one of the litigants is a major campaign contributor to that judge to avoid an inference of bias.
In this case a coal company executive spent $3 million to get Judge Brent Benjamin elected to the state supreme court. He then ruled in favor of that coal company in a $50 million case.
Kennedy, writing for justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer, stressed that ‘not every campaign contribution by a litigant or attorney creates a probability of bias that requires a judge’s recusal’ and that this was an extraordinary case.