Judicial Integrity

     The answer is obvious.
                — Justice Antonin Scalia dissenting in Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Co.
     It’s not often that my jaw drops but I have to admit to gaping (and looking pretty stupid in a public place) when I read the dissenting opinions in Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Co. issued the other day by the U. S. Supreme Court.
     OK, I’m biased. I don’t often agree with the guys on the right. But at least I can sort of understand them most of the time.
     But I’m definitely having an empathy issue with the dissenters in this case (which, by the way, may qualify me for a position on the court).
     If you haven’t read the ruling, here are the essential facts: a group of plaintiffs get a $50 million judgment against a coal company. After the verdict, but before an appeal, the coal company’s chairman spends about $3 million campaigning for a candidate for West Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeal.
     The candidate wins and then votes to overturn the plaintiffs’ judgment – after refusing to recuse himself from the case.
     This would appear to cast the judiciary in a bad light.
     Wouldn’t it?
     This is the last part of a sentence from the ruling: “… bring our judicial system into undeserved disrepute, and diminish the confidence of the American people in the fairness and integrity of their courts.”
     And what would do that?
     Here’s the first part of the sentence from Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissenting opinion: “But I believe that opening the door to recusal claims under the Due Process Clause, for an amorphous ‘probability of bias,’ will itself….”
     That’s right – the four conservative justices on the court think that complaining about your judge’s enormous campaign contributions coming from the other party would tarnish the judiciary. You don’t want people getting the idea that spending millions on a judge’s campaign is bad thing.
     Fair enough (or unfair enough), but what I’m having a hard time with is understanding why this was a right/left, liberal/conservative splitting issue. Don’t judges on the left like money too?
     Maybe the founding fathers liked campaign contributions.
     Moral of the story: only contribute to conservative judges. It’s clearly wasted on the guys on the left.
     And quit filing recusal requests – it damages our confidence in the judiciary. Just pretend those guys in robes are gods who won’t be affected by anything (except a hurtful request to step aside).
     BRUNO PALSGRAF. I have nothing against Mrs. Palsgraf but I’m kind of hoping Sacha Baron Cohen takes her place. I’ve got to believe that an entertaining story makes learning the law easier and more memorable.
     In case you missed it, a lawsuit against Cohen filed the other day in Lancaster, California may shed new light on analysis of proximate cause. The plaintiff was running a charity bingo event when Cohen in his Bruno character showed up and started using “vulgar and offensive language” while calling out numbers.
     According to the suit, the plaintiff got into a struggle over the microphone with Cohen and then fled to another room to cry. In the other room, overcome with emotion, she fainted and hit her head.
     This one belongs in a textbook.

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