April 12, 2010
Massey Coal in the Supreme Court
Posted by Erik Gerding

Those Supreme Court watchers out there may remember that Massey Coal, the company at the center of last week’s mine tragedy in West Virginia, was also at the center of last year’s Supreme court decision in Caperton v. Massey (129 S. Ct. 2252).

In that case, the Supreme Court faced the issue of whether a West Virginia Supreme Court justice should have been forced to recuse himself in a case involving Massey Coal. The company had spent $3 million to support the judge’s reelection to the state Supreme Court – roughly 60% of the total spent in support of the judge’s campaign.

Justice Kennedy wrote a 5-4 opinion for the Court ruling that the justice should have recused himself because of the “risk of actual bias” from these campaign contributions. The dissent argued that this imposed a new recusal standard that would greatly unsettle the law.

If there is state litigation in the wake of the mine collapse, how many judges would have to recuse themselves?

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