There has been so much reaction and commentary about the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday in Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Company that it is hard to know where to begin.
First, I want to discuss the dissents, which I did not do in my post yesterday because I wanted to focus on Justice Kennedy’s opinion.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote a dissent in which Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito joined. He criticized the majority opinion for
enlist[ing] the Due Process Clause to overturn a judge’s failure to recuse because of a "probability of bias." Unlike the established grounds for disqualification, a "probability of bias" cannot be defined in any limited way. The Court’s new "rule" provides no guidance to judges and litigants about when recusal will be constitutionally required. This will inevitably lead to an increase in allegations that judges are biased, however groundless those charges may be. The end result will do far more to erode public confidence in judicial impartiality than an isolated failure to recuse in a particular case.
He also identified 40 “fundamental questions” that courts will now have to determine “with little help from the majority,” such as:
1. How much money is too much money? What level or contribution or expenditure gives rise to a ‘probability of bias’?
6. Does the analysis change depending on whether the judge whose disqualification is sought sits on a trial court, appeals court, or state supreme court?
8. What if the “disproportionately’ large expenditure is made by an industry association, trade union, physicians’ group, or the plaintiffs’ bar? Must the judge recuse in all cases that affect the association’s interests? Must the judge recuse in all cases in which a party or lawyer is a member of that group? Does it matter how much the litigant contributed to the association?
13. Must the judge’s vote be outcome determinative in order for his non-recusal to constitute a due process violation?
21. Does close personal friendship between a judge and a party or lawyer now give rise to a probability of bias?
24. Under the majority’s ‘objective’ test, do we analyze the due process issue through the lens of a reasonable person, a reasonable lawyer, or a reasonable judge?
35. What is the proper remedy? After a successful Caperton motion, must the parties start from scratch before the lower courts? Is any part of the lower court judgment retained?
Chief Justice Roberts also looked at two of the Court’s decisions in cases involving double jeopardy (United States v. Halper, 490 U.S. 435 (1989) and Hudson v. United States, 522 U.S. 93 (1997)), and drew a comparison with the Court’s holding in Caperton, saying that,
The déjà vu is enough to make one swoon. Today, the majority again departs from a clear, longstanding constitutional rule to accommodate an ‘extreme’ case involving ‘grossly disproportionate’ amounts of money. I believe we will come to regret this decision as well, when courts are forced to deal with a wide variety of Caperton motions, each proclaiming the title of "most extreme" or "most disproportionate.
He also pointed out that, “Justice Benjamin just might have won because the voters of West Virginia thought he would be a better judge than his opponent. Unlike the majority, I cannot say with any degree of certainty that Blankenship ‘cho[se] the judge in his own cause.’ Ante, at 16. I would give the voters of West Virginia more credit than that.”
Justice Scalia also dissented separately, and predicted that the Court’s decision would have the effect of reinforcing the perception that “litigation is just a game, that the party with the most resourceful lawyer can play it to win, that our seemingly interminable legal proceedings are wonderfully self-perpetuating but incapable of delivering real-world justice.” He also predicted that the opinion would add to “the vast arsenal of lawyerly gambits what will come to be known as the Caperton claim.”
Yesterday, Chief Justice Benjamin issued this statement regarding the decision, which was written on his official letterhead and posted on the Supreme Court of Appeals’ website, but was described as “personal” and “not a release of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.”
For coverage of the decision, let me start with Paul Nyden’s article in today’s Charleston Gazette, and Jake Stump’s article in today’s Daily Mail. Nyden also wrote an interesting sidebar about who will preside as chief justice when Chief Justice Benjamin recuses himself. I think it will be Justice Robin Davis, as she has the most seniority, but apparently no one from the Court is willing to go on the record at this point.
What is most interesting is that when the Court hears this appeal again, probably during its term that starts in September, Justice Davis, who wrote both of the previous majority opinions, will be the only member who has considered the appeal. Justices Margaret Workman and Menis Ketchum were elected last November and Justice Thomas McHugh was appointed to serve the remainder of Justice Albright’s term through 2010. And the acting chief justice must appoint a replacement for Chief Justice Benjamin. So how the Court will rule for the third, and presumably last, time is very much open.
For a sampling of commentary and analysis, Tony Mauro has this article on The National Law Journal ‘s website; on The BLT ,he has this post about Chief Justice Roberts’ connection to United States v. Halper, one of the double jeopardy cases cited in his dissent.
Carolyn Elefant of Legal Blog Watch wrote this post yesterday about the decision, with links to Mauro, Lyle Dennis at SCOTUSBlog, and George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley. Also, here is some analysis from the Constitutional Prof Law Blog.
And from blogs that focus on appellate litigation, here are Todd Smith’s post at Texas Appellate Law Blog, which questions the effect of the decision on Texas courts, whose members are elected, and a post from Alabama Appellate Watch, which is written by Lightfoot Franklin White LLC.
Finally, I think there have been as many editorials as there have been news articles and blog posts about the decision. But for your consideration, here is The New York Times‘ editorial today entitled "Honest Justice" and The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial entitled "Judges and ‘Bias.’" I’ll leave it to you to figure out what each paper thought about the decision.