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U.S. Supreme Court hears judicial recusal case

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case today looking at when elected judges should step aside in cases involving high-level campaign contributors.

It’s an important issue as individuals, companies and organizations pour millions of dollars worth of support into judicial races.

The last two Wisconsin Supreme Court races were marked by organizations spending millions of dollars to support or attack various candidates.

In a Wisconsin Law Journal article earlier this year, Marquette Law Professor Richard Essenberg noted the challenges justices face when cases related to major supporters come before them.

The question of what effect campaign contributions should have on the decision to sit on a case also has arisen in this year’s state Supreme Court race, although the amounts being discussed ($11,500) are significantly less than the millions at issue in the U.S. Supreme Court case.

In the case that Supreme Court justices will hear today, the question involves whether a member of West Virginia’s Supreme Court should have stepped aside in a case involving a coal company executive who spent $3 million to help him win his last election. One year after Brent Benjamin was elected to the Supreme Court, he participated in a 3-2 decision, overturning a $50 million verdict against Don Blankenship. The coal company executive had engaged in $3 million campaign to unseat Benjamin’s opponent, incumbent Justice Warren McGraw.

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