For Immediate Release
James Sample: 212–992–8658
Susan Lehman: 212–998–6318
in which Judge Decides in Favor of $3 Million Campaign Supporter
New York – Today, the Brennan Center for Justice, along with the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and the Reform Institute, filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to grant certiorari in a case with national ramifications regarding one of the most basic rights in any system of law: the right to a fair hearing before an impartial arbiter.
Background: 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, 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.
According to Theodore B. Olson, former Solicitor General of the United States and counsel of record for the Petitioners, “The improper appearance created by money in judicial elections is one of the most important issues facing our judicial system today. A line needs to be drawn somewhere to prevent a judge from hearing cases involving a person who has made massive campaign contributions to benefit the judge. We certainly believe that, in this case, acting Chief Justice Benjamin crossed that line.”
“The sole interested source of money, the enormous sums, and the timing of the expenditures in this case constitute an egregious example of a national trend-brazen attempts to purchase influence in pending cases,” said James Sample, counsel for the Brennan Center. “Ted Olson and the petitioners are squarely on the mark—this case is far beneath the floor of the most basic notions of due process.”
Along with the brief filed by the Brennan Center, CLC, and the Reform Institute, several other amicus briefs were also filed today in support of the Petitioners. If available as of this release, excerpts from those briefs appear below. Find links here.
* Brief Amicus Curiae, Brennan Center, Campaign Legal Center & Reform Institute
Amici do not suggest that any campaign expenditure by a litigant on behalf of a judge necessitates disqualification. But the proposition that campaign expenditures, regardless of the amounts, timing, or manner in which they are made never cross over “the outer boundaries of judicial qualification” established by the Due Process Clause would in effect nullify one of the Constitution’s most fundamental protections. Lavoie, 475 U.S. at 828.
* Brief Amicus Curiae, American Bar Association
The ABA submits that the facts of this case would require judicial disqualification under the current version of the ABA’s Model Code… The conduct here, accepting contributions of this magnitude from a litigant and refusing to recuse-certainly creates an appearance of impropriety."
Judicial elections and judicial campaign contributions in the normal course do not violate due process. However, implicit in the Model Code’s Rule 2.11A(A)(4) is that, at some contribution level, fundamental fairness concerns of actual or apparent bias are triggered. Because the Court has held that the appearance, as well as the reality, of judicial impartiality animates the Due Process Clause, the ABA submits that this case presents an important opportunity for the Court to clarify the constitutional boundaries that govern…judicial campaign contributions.
* Brief Amicus Curiae, Committee for Economic Development
By not recusing himself from the appeal of a $50 million jury verdict against A.T. Massey Coal Company (“Massey”)—after he received over $3 million in post-verdict, pre-appeal campaign support from Massey’s CEO—West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin created an appearance of bias that would diminish the integrity of the judicial process in the eyes of any reasonable person.
A holding by the Court that the Due Process Clause required Justice Benjamin’s recusal would provide crucial guidance to elected judges and preserve public confidence in judicial elections. Such confidence is of particular value to those engaged in commerce, who rely on even-handed justice to make informed financial and investment decisions.
* Brief Amicus Curiae, Washington Appellate Lawyers Association
This Court has not yet had an opportunity to define the relationship between judicial campaign contributions and the due process clause. The time is right for an exploration of that relationship, judicial contributors deserve guidance on the impact their contributions may have, non-donor parties to lawsuits need guidance on the applicable principles, judges themselves would benefit from this Court’s review, and this case presents an ideal vehicle for such a review.
* Brief Amicus Curiae, Public Citizen
Whether or not the decisions below were in fact affected by the sizable campaign contributions described in the petition, petitioners can have no faith that the outcome of the case was not affected by the contributions to the judge who ruled against them.