Lawyers across the country said Tuesday that a Supreme Court ruling on conflicts of interest among elected judges could prompt a deluge of requests for judges to recuse themselves from cases. But judges predicted that few situations would involve conflicts serious enough for the new ruling to apply, reports the New York Times. On Monday, the court ruled that judges must remove themselves from cases that involve people who donated huge sums to help them get elected. While judges and lawyers might disagree on the consequences, legal experts said that either way, scrutiny would increase.
“You're going to see a much greater analysis put to the campaign contributions that elected judges get,” said H. Thomas Wells Jr., the president of the American Bar Association. The court, in a 5-to-4 opinion written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, ruled that the Constitution requires judge to disqualify themselves from hearing a case when campaign spending by an interested party had “disproportionate influence” on a case that was “pending or imminent.” The decision did not set detailed standards for recusal, but said the extreme facts presented in the case clearly crossed a line. In the case, a coal executive had spent $3 million to help elect a justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court. The justice then voted twice to throw out a $50 million judgment against the executive's company.