Monday, March 2, 2009
Is there a right under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to have a seemingly impartial judge?
Or, as the question in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., to be argued before the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday, March 3 describes the issue:
Justice Brent Benjamin of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia refused to recuse himself from the appeal of the $50 million jury verdict in this case, even though the CEO of the lead defendant spent $3 million supporting his campaign for a seat on the court--more than 60% of the total amount spent to support Justice Benjamin's campaign-- while preparing to appeal the verdict against his company. After winning election to the court, Justice Benjamin cast the deciding vote in the court's 3-2 decision overturning that verdict. The question presented is whether Justice Benjamin's failure to recuse himself from participation in his principal financial supporter's case violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
There is a good analysis and access to the briefs at the Scotus Wiki for the case here. There are a number of amicus briefs including briefs from various judges, some supporting the Petitioner and others the Respondent. The ABA has filed an amicus in support of the Petitioner (arguing that there is a due process right) while Con Law Profs Ronald Rotunda (of Chapman U School of Law) and Michael Dimino (visiting at FSU College of Law) filed an amicus brief arguing that the Court should reaffirm the traditional rule that "due process requires the drastic remedy of recusal only when the traditional prohibition that Blackstone and Coke described – that a judge cannot sit on his own case –applies."
The oral argument should be revelatory, not only about this case, but concerning views of judicial propriety.