3.01.2009

Judicial Elections, Federalism, and Biased Judges - The Caperton Case

SCOTUSBLOG reports on a case set for oral argument before the nation's high court on Tuesday:

"Amid reports of a recent "explosion" in campaign spending on state elections for judges, the Supreme Court explores how far the Constitution goes to set controls on judges who have taken hefty donations. The issue of when due process requires disqualification of such a judge is at the heart of the case of Caperton, et al., v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., et al.

The case is relevant to recent controversies involving Wisconsin's State Supreme Court elections.  It also has implications in the Louisiana flap involving Professor Vernon Valentine Palmer's flawed ethics critique of the Louisiana Supreme Court.  Several fundamental judicial and democratic interests are in play in the Caperton case, as Lyle Denniston lays out:

"The Supreme Court may well be torn, in deciding this case, between concern for the independence of the states and worry over the independence of the judiciary.  There are strong federalism overtones to the case, with states preferring to keep control over their own courts rather than have them subjected to some type of ongoing federal constitutional superintendence.  But there are also overtones of concern in the case about the influence of big money in American elections — and, especially, sizeable donations by lawyers and litigants to judges before whom they may appear (perhaps an ethical issue as much as it is one of constitutional dimension).

This promises to be a case worth following.