Court: Elected Judges Can't Rule on Major Donors

Kennedy gives opinion in 5-4 decision
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 8, 2009 10:26 AM CDT
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court sit for a group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington in this March 3, 2006 file photo.    (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
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(Newser) – The Supreme Court ruled today that elected judges must recuse themselves from cases when large campaign contributions from interested parties create the appearance of bias. By a 5-4 vote in a case from West Virginia, the court said that a judge who remained involved in a lawsuit filed against his most generous campaign supporter deprived the other side of the constitutional right to a fair trial.

“Not every campaign contribution by a litigant or attorney creates a probability of bias that requires a judge's recusal, but this is an exceptional case," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his opinion for the court. With multimillion-dollar judicial election campaigns on the rise, the court's decision today could have widespread significance. Judges are elected in 39 states and candidates for the highest state courts have raised more than $168 million since 2000, analysts found. (Read more US Supreme Court stories.)