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Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Company (U.S. Sup. Ct.)

On January 5, 2009, Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) filed a Supreme Court brief in Caperton v. Massey, a case raising the question of whether the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause requires an elected state judge to recuse himself when a litigant appearing before him has made substantial contributions to the judge’s election campaign.

CAC's brief in Caperton explained that our Constitution’s text and history require that in every state, throughout America, we have a fair system of justice. The Court on June 8, 2009 echoed that conclusion, explaining that its ruling was commanded by “the text and purpose of the law and the Constitution.” The decision is a victory for CAC and judicial ethics.

The case before the Supreme Court arose out of massive campaign contributions made by Don Blankenship, chairman, CEO, and president of A.T. Massey Coal Co., in support of now-Justice Brent Benjamin’s campaign for a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Blankenship spent $3 million – more than 60% of the total amount spent in support of Justice Benjamin’s successful candidacy. At the time of Benjamin’s election, Massey was preparing an appeal of a $50 million fraud verdict against the company to Benjamin’s court. After winning a seat on that court, Benjamin refused to recuse himself from Massey’s appeal, instead casting the tie-breaking vote in Massey’s favor.

CAC’s brief, on behalf of clients including Justice at Stake, Appleseed, Common Cause and the American Judicature Society, argued that Benjamin’s failure to recuse himself violates due process and discusses the importance of judicial independence to the framers of the 14th Amendment, who were particularly concerned with securing equal justice for all and ensuring that judges ruled based on the merits of a case rather than on personal bias or financial interest. CAC’s brief also explained how the Court’s Due Process ruling will influence ongoing efforts in the states to reform the process of judicial selection to further define the circumstances triggering campaign-related recusal and avoid threats to judicial integrity and impartiality in the first place.

For commentary on the case, visit our blog, Text & History. CAC's Chief Counsel Elizabeth Wydra discussed the case on Fox News.

On March 3 2009, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Caperton v. Massey.

On June 8, 2009, the Supreme Court released its opinion in Caperton. Read CAC's news release hailing the decision and read commentary on Text & History.

On November 12, 2009, the West Virginia Supreme Court returned what may possibly be its final decision in the case. Read our coverage of the decision on Text and History.