Supreme Court Reverses Decision in Caperton v. Massey

For Immediate Release


Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212-998-6289
Susan Lehman, 212-998-6318

Supreme Court Reverses Decision in Caperton v. Massey

In 5 to 4 Vote, Major Victory for the Rule of Law

NEW YORK - Today, in a major victory for the rule of law, the Supreme Court issued a decision in the landmark case of Caperton v. Massey, reversing the decision of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals by a 5 to 4 vote.

"There has been an unprecedented flood of money into judicial elections
in the states," said Susan Liss, Director of the Democracy Program at
the Brennan Center for Justice. "And this decision makes clear that
campaign contributions must not be permitted to undermine the
impartiality of the courts."

"This is a major victory for the rule of law," stated James Sample,
Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. "The Supreme Court has
reaffirmed the fundamental principle that money should not influence
the courts, and that justice should not be for sale."

This landmark case brought together an unlikely set of allies who
supported Caperton in his bid for an impartial tribunal. The strange
bedfellows included former state Supreme Court justices, corporations
like Wal-Mart and Lockheed Martin, and advocates for fair courts like
the Brennan Center for Justice and the Campaign Legal Center.

"The remarkable coalition supporting Caperton's position speaks to the
considerable effect the outcome will have on our judicial system-and
the widely recognized need to ensure that the courts continue to
dispense fair and impartial justice," Liss observed.

In Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., the Supreme Court
grappled with the question whether the fundamental right to a fair
hearing before a neutral arbiter required disqualification of a judge
in a case where one party to litigation had given extraordinary
campaign contributions to the judge while the party's case was pending.
Against a backdrop of a dramatic rise of special interest spending in
judicial elections nationwide, former Solicitor General Theodore Olson
argued before the Supreme Court on March 3 that the Constitution's
due-process clause required a West Virginia Judge to recuse himself
from a lawsuit involving an executive who spent $3 million to elect the
judge. Those expenditures, which came at the same time the court was
considering the executive's case, were more than all other
contributions to the judge's election, combined.

Emphasizing that a "fair trial in a fair tribunal is a basic
requirement of due process," the Supreme Court ruled that the
constitution required recusal under the circumstances of the case.
Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court, and was joined by
Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer. Chief Judge Roberts
issued a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas
and Alito, and Justice Scalia also filed a dissenting opinion.

Background materials on the case, including all the amicus briefs
filed, can be found here. The Brennan Center's amicus brief can be
found here.

For more information or to set up an interview with James Sample,
please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at 212-998-6289 or, Susan Lehman at 212-998-6318 or You can also contact James Sample directly at
406- 690-3947.


The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Our work ranges from voting rights to redistricting reform, from access to the courts to presidential power in the fight against terrorism.

Share This Article

More in: