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I was given an award by the Defense Bar. That trip was to Spain, all expenses paid. And we had two other judges along . . . and there was no conflict whatsoever . . .
—Hon. Sol Gothard, retired judge New Orleans, LA
IT MUST HAVE BEEN A COOL AFTERNOON IN LATE MAY WHEN U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts penned the dissenting opinion in the case of Caperton v. Massey Coal Company17 because the issue at stake, campaign contributions to judges, fuels a fever in the mind of just about any judge. Five of the other justices had ruled that judges must recuse themselves when a “substantial campaign contributor” is a party in a case. It was the first time in history that the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that a “probability of a conflict of interest” was a concern. Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito joined Roberts in the dissent.
The case involved a campaign contribution of $3 million made, both directly and indirectly, to a candidate for a West Virginia State Supreme Court seat. The candidate won the election and subsequently ruled, on appeal, in favor of the donor of the $3 million. The question before the U.S. Supreme Court was whether the West Virginia justice should have recused himself from hearing the case.
In Justice Roberts’ dissenting opinion, he lamented that raising the specter of judicial bias might erode the public’s perception that judges are honest, wise, and fair individuals: “There is a ‘presumption of honesty and integrity in those serving as adjudicators.’ All judges take an oath to uphold the Constitution and apply the law impartially, and we trust that they will live up to this promise.” And citing another opinion, “We should not, even by inadvertence, ‘impute to judges a lack of firmness, wisdom, or honor.’” Buy the book to read more…