Copyright (c) 2011 Arkansas Law Review, Inc.
Arkansas Law Review
ARTICLE: Rethinking "Bias": Judicial Elections and the Due Process Clause After Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co.
Arkansas Law Review
64 Ark. L. Rev. 179
In 2004, Don Blankenship, president of the A.T. Massey Coal Company, spent more than $ 3 million of his own money supporting Brent Benjamin's candidacy in an electoral race for a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court. 1 At the time Blankenship made these massive expenditures, Massey Coal was in the process of appealing a $ 50 million tort verdict in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., a case that Blankenship knew the state supreme court would soon consider. 2
Benjamin won the election, and subsequently declined to recuse himself from Massey Coal's appeal in Caperton. 3 He ultimately cast the deciding vote overturning the verdict. 4 The losing parties filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, 5 arguing that Benjamin's refusal to recuse himself violated the Constitution's Due Process Clause. 6 The Court granted the petition. 7
In a sharply divided decision, a five-member majority found for the petitioners. Justice Kennedy wrote the Court's opinion, which held that the Due Process Clause requires recusal when there is a "serious risk of actual bias" 8 and that, because "Blankenship's campaign efforts had a significant and disproportionate influence in placing Justice Benjamin on the case," 9 there was "a serious, objective risk of actual bias that required Justice Benjamin's recusal." 10
Caperton constitutes a significant shift in the Court's constitutionally required recusal jurisprudence. The Court had long maintained that the Due Process Clause constitutionalized the common law's constrained ...
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