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Michigan Justices weigh-in against court reform

Michigan taxpayers will be pleased to learn that Michigan Supreme Court Justices Young and Corrigan, with not enough work to do, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, indirectly arguing against limitations on judicial campaign contributions.

The context is Caperton v. Massey, a West Virginia case involving one of that state's wealthiest citizens.  When his coal company was hit with a fifty million dollar damage award, citizen Massey targeted a sitting state Supreme Court judge in the upcoming election and gave three million dollars to the campaign of his opponent.  Massey's candidate--who had few credentials to recommend him beyond an unwavering support for people like Massey--won the election and promptly refused to recuse himself from the Caperton v. Massey appeal.  That history is described more fully in an earlier web log entry on this site.

After Massey's captive judge joined with two other judges to overturn the verdict against Massey's firm, the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.  A substantial number of retired judges joined with the appellants, urging the high court to set standards that would prevent a judge from hearing a case involving a litigant who was such a significant contributor.  "Our" judges, Young and Corrigan, joined an amicus brief filed on Massey's behalf.  They argued that upholding the recusal of judges who owe a "debt of gratitude" to a litigant would "lead to holding the judiciary in lower esteem," and therefore the Supreme Court should not indirectly limit campaign activity or set judicial standards for recusal as a due process violation.  You read that right:  Young and Corrigan argue that disqualifying a judge who received too much money from a particular litigant would lower the public's opinion of the judiciary:  this argument is NOT taken directly from George Orwell's Animal Farm--although it could have been. As one of our more cynical colleagues used to suggest:  "the law is what is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained."  If you are willing to be cynical enough, you can argue almost any position, regardless of common sense.  As Lincoln pointed out, "common sense just isn't all that common."

People of the same political persuasion also argue that donating money to political and judicial campaigns is an exercise of "free speech," and thus recognizing Young and Corrigan's argument would directly authorize wealthy litigants and corporations to purchase a court of their choosing---even if they have a case under immediate scrutiny by the court.  There was a time when arguments such as this would have embarrassed even the most partisan lawyer or judge.  Nothing seems to embarrass this crew, however.

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