On Monday June 8, 2009 the United States Supreme Court released its long anticipated decision in a case in which that Court was asked whether judges who had obvious bias in the outcome of the case must disqualify themselves from sitting in judgment. To the average person it would seem obvious that if a judge is a friend to one particular party, and even received substantial amounts of money from that party effectively owing the successful election to the monetary support of that friend, there would be a presumption of bias that would automatically require disqualification.
But we’re talking about the American judicial system, where the primary rule of law especially in the higher courts – is generally “do as I say, not as I do.” The fact that this case was even the subject of intense judicial debate is itself a testament of the hypocrisy and political corruption within our judiciary.
The facts in this case are pretty clear. In 2002 Hugh Caperton, owner of a West Virginia coal mining company by the name of Harman Mining Company won a 50 million dollar jury verdict against the A.T. Massey Coal Company. Subsequently, Don Blankenship, the C.E.O. of A.T. Massey Coal Company pumped millions of dollars into a local election to remove incumbent Democratic Judge Warren McGraw and put his own pick for judge, Republican Brent Benjamin on the court.
The clear implication is that Don Blankenship wanted to have the court in his own pocket. This isn’t rocket science and all but the deliberately ignorant can read between the lines. Blankenship pumped millions of dollars of his own money into this judicial election for only one purpose – Blankenship knew that he would need a “friend” on the court to that earlier $50 million dollar jury verdict thrown out.
Sure enough, Blankenship’s appeal of that jury verdict against him and his company climbs its way up to the West Virginia Supreme Court and – surprise! – guess who cast the deciding vote throwing out that $50 million dollar verdict? Yep, you guessed it – none other than Justice Brent Benjamin.
Incredibly, although any objective person would obviously question Judge Brent Benjamin’s decision in favor of his dear friend, motions to disqualify Justice Benjamin were all denied. Lawyers arguing in behalf of Don Blankenship and his morally corrupt A.T. Massey Coal Company essentially argued that as long as you are a rich powerful company it is perfectly acceptable to effectively buy justice from the highest courts of the land. And this case had to go all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the validity of this absurd argument as the lower courts could not reach a consensus on this moral question.
Then the case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court and is fully argued by both parties and on Monday a decision was released in which a marginal majority agreed that there was an obvious conflict of interest in allowing Don Blankenship and his A.T. Massey Coal Company to pump millions of dollars into the campaign to get Justice Brent Benjamin elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court, only to then have Justice Benjamin preside over his benefactors case and decide the case in Blankenship’s favor.
What must be emphasized is that this case was close – believe it or not, but four of the seven Supreme Court Justices actually wrote dissenting decisions in favor of Don Blankenship and the A.T. Massey Coal Company. Not surprisingly, it was the ultra-conservative pro-corporate America Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. All four of these conservative justices were appointed to the court by conservative Republicans.
Once again this case graphically illustrates the moral values of an increasingly corrupt judicial system in which the power of politics determines the outcome of a case, whether it is a civil dispute such as the above, or cases involving social issues such as abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, etc.
In my opinion the average person simply doesn’t understand just how completely corrupt our contemporary judicial system has become in this past generation of conservative politics. Regardless to what your political position might be, anyone familiar with the process in which judges are either appointed to the bench or must campaign publically and be elected to the bench by popular vote, the result is the same – the insidious corruption of politics actually decides who becomes a Judge or Justice, not the particular qualifications of the judges themselves.
Repeatedly we have seen this pathetic circus play out as elected Presidents pick their nominees for a seat in the U.S. Supreme Court. Up until recently the conservative Republicans controlled both the White House and the senate responsible for casting the deciding vote that affirmed the nomination.
Recently dethroned President George W. Bush made no apologies for his undeniable agenda to appoint only ultra conservative judges to the bench. The nominee’s political and ideological philosophies were far more important then the qualifications – both of Bush’s most recent appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito irrefutably attest to this.
But now the Democrats control both the White House and the U.S. Senate with the recent retirement of Justice Souter, President Barack Obama has announced the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, and next month the U.S. Senate will begin its confirmation process. Most already concede that Sonia Sotomayor will be confirmed – but only because the Democrats control the Senate. The simple truth is that if Republican John Mc Cain had won the presidential election last year, Sonia Sotomayor would not have had any chance of being nominated to the highest court regardless of her qualification. Equally so, even with President Obama in the White House, if the Republican’s had won a majority of seats in the U.S. Senate, then they would use that political control to block the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment.
With these political interested so blatantly corrupting our judicial process, how can justice ever truly prevail? Those appointed to the highest levels of our judiciary are effectively puppets of the politics that define them. Any case that might come before these politically corrupted courts will undoubtedly be decided not on the merits of the case, but upon the political agenda of those appointed to the court.
Maybe its time that we, as a society, start to take a long, hard look at what our concept of “justice” is. As a constitutional democracy every level of our government exists to serve the people – not just the politically influential, or the rich and powerful, but the average individual.
I believe that as a society we have forgotten the democratic principles that have made our republic – The United States of America – the envy of the world. How many Americans today are even vaguely familiar with the original “Bill of Rights” contained within our constitution? How many Americans have ever contemplated upon the fact that in these ten articles historically known as the Bill of Rights, virtually every one of them are specifically intended to protect the individual against the politically corrupted abuse of power by those who act in the interest of government? Not even one of those articles exists to empower any for of government, including our judiciary, to deprive any individual of even one of these protected rights.
Arguably, the most important constitutional right is that of “due process,” which itself protects the recognized right to a fair and impartial process when an individual must go before the courts to invoke or enforce their other rights. Under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, it states that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”
The courts have long recognized that this Due Process Clause protects the “fundamental fairness” of the judicial proceedings, requiring that any judge who might have a personal or political interest in the outcome of a case, or harbor personal opinions or ideologies that might unfairly influence the outcome of a particular case in favor of either party must disqualify themselves from presiding over the case.
Is this actually the case? Or has our judicial system itself now become so completely corrupted by the pervasive “politics of death” that the integrity of our judicial system itself has become inherently corrupted?
The Supreme Court’s decision recognizing the corruptive influence of politics and money actually only addresses the very tip of a much larger iceberg that ultimately may very well sink our constitutional democracy.
In recent years we have gone to war against every conceivable external threat to our constitutional democracy – except the threat that comes from within. For a generation now conservative politicians have exploited their own self-created “war on crime” to scare the public into supporting their own ideological agenda of methodically eliminating the individual rights of all people. Under their influence, our judiciary has been stacked with judicial activists such as the cartel of ultra-conservatives on the Supreme Court (Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito) who fanatically force-feed their own political prejudices down everyone’s throats, whether it be the over-zealous pursuit of expediting executions by any means necessary, even openly advocating the execution of the innocent in the interest of what they see as the greater purpose of expediting finality, or declaring that abortions are “murder” and compromise the value of society’s respect for the sanctity of life (apparently, aborting an unborn fetus is murder, but executing an adult, even if they are innocent, is moral), these conservatives came to the Court with a politically motivated ideological agenda.
The question I ask now is, just what is the difference between a morally corrupt party blatantly buying justice by pumping millions of dollars into the campaign to elect the specific judge he wants to decide his case, and a politically corrupt process that handpicks potential judges and Supreme Court Justices based upon their political ideologies and agenda’s rather than their qualifications?
The administration of “justice” must be impartial; truth and justice can only prevail when the fundamental fairness of our judicial process itself is protected by exorcising politics and personal ideologies from it. Tragically, even with the greatest minds not one has yet come up with a viable solution to protect against this corruption. In such a system, can “justice” ever truly prevail? I ask you to please check out and read my website Southern Injustice.