Massey Update: Corporate America Weighs In on the Side of Judicial Independence

Earlier this week we reported that CAC, on behalf of itself and 27 other national, state, and local organizations that are committed to preserving judicial independence and integrity, filed a Supreme Court brief in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Company. At issue in this case is whether the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause was violated by the refusal of elected West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin to recuse himself from a multimillion dollar appeal in which the CEO of the lead appellant, Massey Coal Co., was a major contributor to his campaign for office.

Now, some of the country’s largest corporations have also weighed in on the side of petitioner Hugh Caperton. Caperton lost the appeal before Justice Benjamin’s court after Benjamin cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of Massey Coal Co., thereby overturning a $50 million verdict awarded to Caperton by a trial jury.

On Monday, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., PepsiCo, Intel Corporation, and Lockheed Martin Corporation, joined the Committee for Economic Development and others in siding with Caperton, filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court that argues:

Confidence in the judiciary is of particular value to those engaged in commerce, who rely on evenhanded justice to make informed financial and investment decisions.… Clearly establishing that due process requires recusal of a judge who has received outsized campaign contributions from a party before that judge will preserve confidence in the judiciary and promote economic growth.

The corporations’ brief further notes:

By not recusing himself from the appeal of a $50 million jury verdict against Massey—after he received over $3 million in post-verdict, pre-appeal campaign support from Massey’s CEO— Justice Benjamin created an appearance of bias that would diminish the integrity of the judicial process in the eyes of any reasonable person.

These are impressive statements from such well known corporations, which could just as easily have remained silent about this case. Moreover, the “industry brief” rounds out a chorus of other groups and individuals advocating a ruling in favor of Caperton, including a group of 27 former state Supreme Court justices, the American Bar Association, the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Brennan Center for Justice. Such concern among the business and legal communities (as well as from the NY Times, which twice urged the Court to hear Caperton) reflects the widely-appreciated implications of this case for judicial independence and integrity.

Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal(08-22) is set to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, March 3. Links to all amicus briefs are available here.