SCOTUS Split On Judicial Recusal?

The U.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in Caperton v. Massey, a case stemming from a West Virginia recusal controversy. Based on yesterday’s oral arguments, observers think the court will be closely divided in a ruling that will have major ramifications for funding and running judicial contests. The folks over at SCOTUSblog have a detailed rundown on yesterday’s arguments. And you can read the full transcript of the proceedings here.The case centers on West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin, who twice ruled in favor of a coal company whose CEO spent some $3 million to help him win a seat on the bench. At issue for the justices is whether Benjamin should have recused himself from the case involving Massey Energy. One topic of concern for the justices Tuesday was the wide ranging ramifications their decision could have on state court contests. From SCOTUSblog

[Justice Anthony] Kennedy also gave voice to what seems to be the concern of many Justices about the whole idea of crafting a new recusal approach. He told [Ted] Olson that “all of us know that a ruling in your favor means that law and motion practice could change drastically in states all across the country. Disqualification for bias will now become a part of the petrial process…

Former Bush Administration Solicitor General Ted Olson, representing mine owner Hugh Caperton, argued in favor of a recusal standard. This past October he told Politics magazine a decision in Caperton’s favor is likely to undercut the rationale for big-time independent expenditures and push states to impose new finance restrictions on judicial contests. A decision is likely sometime this spring.Shane D’Aprile is senior editor at Politics magazine.

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