For Immediate Release:
April 2, 2008
Susan Lehman, 212–998–6318
Mike Webb, 212–998–6746
Special interest spending has swamped statewide judicial elections. This increase in spending forces the people who uphold justice in our society to dial for dollars in order to run a successful election. Worse yet, as judges are forced to raise more campaign cash, the public’s confidence in getting a fair hearing before an impartial court is crumbling.
In an effort to restore trust in our justice system, the Brennan Center for Justice has published a new report — Fair Courts: Setting Recusal Standards — that seeks to eliminate even the appearance of an imbalanced judiciary with consistent principles and rules for when a judge should step down from a case.
In the foreword to the new report, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas Thomas R. Phillips writes, “now as never before, reinvigorating recusal is truly necessary to preserve the court system that Chief Justice Rehnquist called the ‘crown jewel’ of our American experiment.”
Setting Recusal Standards documents the politicization of the courts, includes real-world recusal-related anecdotes, state-specific sidebars. Most importantly, it includes ten separate recommendations for judges, legislators, citizens and media seeking to reform or analyze recusal practices in their respective states.
“Recent cases in West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Illinois have all seen state Supreme Court justices rule in cases where they had received thousands of dollars in donations from some of the parties that had cases before them,” said the report’s co-author James Sample, Counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “It’s no wonder that the general public is questioning the impartiality of these courts’ decisions.”
Most of the proposals — such as peremptory disqualification, enhanced disclosure, and new judicial education seminars — are easy to enact and have widespread support. Others require more dramatic changes in recusal practices. For example, the paper recommends that states consider adopting provisions similar to the ABA’s per se rule concerning campaign contributions. That is, once a judge has received donations exceeding a certain threshold, that judge would then be automatically disqualified to hear a case involving that donor, or those closely associated with the donor.
Ultimately, the paper aims to provide state courts with options that enhance and protect the integrity of our legal system. The paper is now available online and is being mailed to judges and advocates across the country.