US Supreme Court Holds That Justice Should Have Recused Himself | Speaker Law
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US Supreme Court Holds That Justice Should Have Recused Himself

Posted on Monday, May 14, 2018

In the much-anticipated decision regarding judicial recusal, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Caperton v Massey Coal Co. that the West Virginia Supreme Court justice who received $3,000,000 in campaign contributions from a person who had a case pending before the Court should have recused himself because there was a "serious, objective risk of actual bias." The Court held that the petitioner's due process rights were violated when the W.Va. high court reversed the $50,000,000 trial court ruling in its favor, and instead, ruled in favor of the party who had contributed significant sums to one of the justice's recent campaign for election.


The majority opinion was particularly concerned by the "extreme" nature of this case, and considered the amount of campaign contributions in comparison to the total amount contributed and to the total amount spent in the election, along with the temporal relationship bewteen the campign contributions, the justice's election, and the pendency of this case. The Court noted that the "extraordinary contributions were made at a time when he [the donor] had a vested stake in the outcome" of the election due to his case that was being appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court.


The dissenting opinion by Justice Roberts raises concerns about how to implement the standard of what gives rise to the "probability" or "appearance" of bias. The dissent lists 40 questions that courts will have to answer in order to decide a recusal issue, such as (#1) how much money is too much money, (#7) how long does the probability of bias last, and (#13) must the judge's vote be outcome determinative in order for his non-recusal to constitute a due process violation?

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