Monday, June 8, 2009

Caperton Decision - Justice prevails - barely

The United States Supreme Court just released its Caperton decision today.

The case, in a nutshell (From the Syllabus):

After a West Virginia jury found respondents, a coal company and its affiliates (hereinafter Massey), liable for fraudulent misrepresentation, concealment, and tortious interference with existing contractual relations and awarded petitioners (hereinafter Caperton) $50 million in damages, West Virginia held its 2004 judicial elections. Knowing the State Supreme Court of Appeals would consider the appeal, Don Blankenship, Massey’s chairman and principal officer, supported Brent Benjamin rather than the incumbent justice seeking reelection. His $3 million in contributions exceeded the total amount spent by all other Benjamin supporters and by Benjamin’s own committee. Benjamin won by fewer than 50,000 votes. Before Massey filed its appeal, Caperton moved to disqualify now-Justice Benjamin under the Due Process Clause and the State’s Code of Judicial Conduct, based on the conflict caused by Blankenship’s campaign involvement. Justice Benjamin denied the motion, indicating that he found nothing showing bias for or against any litigant. The court then reversed the $50 million verdict. During the rehearing process, Justice Benjamin refused twice more to recuse himself, and the court once again reversed the jury verdict. Four months later, Justice Benjamin filed a concurring opinion, defending the court’s opinion and his recusal decision.

The Court held that under these circumstances, Due Process required recusal.

Of course, this is the correct decision. There's no way in hell that judge should have stayed on that case under those circumstances. That he did shows he has no shame whatsoever and also knows how to ruthlessly exercise and exploit his power. So he has a bright future ahead of him in the Republican Party. What is scary about this case is, like many recently, it was decided 5-4, and no surprise, the 4 was Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia. What was the difficulty the gang of 4 had with this case? Well, they fear there will be an explosion of suits about recusals after this, with no clear standards about when recusal is required by the Constitution.

In other words, they say, because there is apparently not a "bright line" test or simple rule, there can be no remedy for this under the Constitution. One wonders if the $3 million in contributions came from Planned Parenthood and if the case was an abortion case, if these same four judges would have declared that to be without remedy. Then again, maybe they know that such cases are seldom to arise the other way around because the parties with deep pockets and millions to spend on judicial elections will almost always be GOP or GOP sympathizers (big business interests).

You really have to hand it to them - they throw up their hands helplessly as injustice is done and say that they can't do anything about it because they can't come up with a simple enough rule. And here I thought the right-wing always said that judges shouldn't make new law (rules) - they should just act as impartial umpires. Roberts said that at his confirmation hearing. Yet here is a clear foul, and he throws up his arms and says that he can't call it a foul because if he did, some abstract, bad things might happen in the future - so better to call the foul ball a "fair" ball.

What a load of crap. Under the facts of this case, there is no way in hell that judge should have been on that case. You don't need any special rule to see that. The facts speak for themselves. And they are extreme facts. Absent such an extreme circumstance, it is also clear that you will not find a due process violation, or at least not very easily. So the talk of doom and gloom about all the litigation this will spawn is a load of crap. I think what irks them is that justice was done, and it was won by the little guy against a big corporation. Then that was "remedied" by a reversal by this tainted judge. Now that "remedy" is at risk with a remand. Can't have that.

It is scary to think how close we are to so many 5-4 bad decisions. I wonder if the new justice will live up to the name. I can only hope.

1 comment:

S said...

It's insane that 4 justices on the Supreme Court don't think this situation should have a remedy. As for the "difficulty" of crafting a rule, well isn't that what they do all the time?

This case stunk to high heaven and it's ridiculous that we have to say thank goodness that 5 members of the Supreme Court smelled the same thing all the regular folk smelled.