This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court released Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Company. The case involves facts that are almost too extreme to believe. Massey was appealing a multi-million judgment and decided to help its chances at the West Virginia Supreme Court by spending approximately $3 million to help elect a new supreme court justice. After the court, with the new supreme court justice, threw out the award, the plaintiff appealed, arguing that it was deprived of its right to trial.
In the ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiff and held that courts shouldn’t rule on cases involving large donors. Unfortunately, the opinion doesn’t provide much more guidance than that. So what does that mean for Texas? Texas has judicial elections, and most campaign contributions come from those with cases before the Court. A Texans for Public Justice study concluded that in the last Supreme Court election, the candidates received more than 65% of their contributions from those with business before the Court. And it wasn’t just a Republican or a Democratic issue, both sides were equally guilty.
So where do we go? Do we see a lot more motions to recuse or will the decision provide the impetus needed to those that support abolishing judicial elections.
It’s hard to know until the dust settles. Once the decision and its lower cases interpreting it are fleshed out, there might not be any change at all. On the other hand, it might make all the difference in the world. It will at least be interesting to watch as it plays out.
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