This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.
judges in the United States got a warning this week about money, politics and
the law. The Supreme Court ruled that a huge campaign donation can be reason
enough not to judge a case involving the donor.
Thirty-nine of the fifty states elect at least some of their
judges. Terms can last from two to twelve years. Experts say Japan and
Switzerland are the only other countries that hold some kind of judicial
In many states, elections for judges are increasingly competitive.
The Justice at Stake Campaign says candidates raised one hundred sixty-eight
million dollars between two thousand and two thousand seven. The group says
that was double the amount raised in the nineteen nineties.
say the situation threatens the fairness of state courts. It may create the
appearance that judges are selling their influence.
Supreme Court ruled on a vote by a judge elected to West Virginia's high court five
years ago. Justice Brent Benjamin -- now chief justice -- voted to overturn a
fifty million dollar judgment against the Massey Coal Company.
Massey's chairman had
spent three million dollars to help elect him to the West Virginia Supreme
Court of Appeals. That was after the company lost a jury trial over a business dispute.
Justice Benjamin refused to remove
himself from Massey's appeal and cast the deciding vote. The reason he gave for
not recusing himself was that there was no financial gain for him in making his
decision. The donations, however, represented about sixty percent of all his
United States Supreme Court found that the "extreme facts" of the
case raised the probability of bias to an unconstitutional level. Not every
campaign gift requires a judge's recusal, the court said, "but this is an
Yet the nine justices were narrowly divided in their
opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts was one of four dissenters. He said the
court provided no guidance about when recusal will be constitutionally required.
This, he said, will lead to an increase in claims that judges are biased, "however
groundless those charges may be."
The American Bar Association's Committee
on Judicial Independence is working on guidelines for when judges should recuse
themselves. Committee chairman William Weisenberg says the lawyers group is for
greater use of merit-based selections. This is where a committee nominates
candidates to the state governor for appointment.
And that's the VOA Special English
Economics Report. I'm Mario Ritter.
Clarification: This story notes an estimate of $168 million in campaign spending for state courts from 2000 to 2007. That amount is for elections for state supreme courts alone.