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Elon Law professors Gaylord, Haile, and Woodlief call for judicial election reforms following Supreme Court ruling

Through op-ed columns and television news appearances, Elon Law professors Scott Gaylord, Andrew Haile, and Alan Woodlief recently provided analysis and evaluation of North Carolina's system for judicial elections, in response to a June 8 United States Supreme Court ruling in Caperton v. Massey Coal Co.

Scott Gaylord, Andrew Haile, and Alan Woodlief

The controversial case involved a West Virginia Supreme Court Justice who refused to recuse himself from ruling in a $50 million dollar appeal, in which the defendant individually contributed more than $3 million to the judge’s election campaign.

In a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Kennedy, the Court stated, “We conclude that there is a serious risk of actual bias when a person with personal stake in a particular case had a significant and disproportionate influence in placing the judge on the case by raising funds or directing the judge’s election campaign when the case was pending or imminent . . . the failure to consider objective standards requiring recusal is not consistent with the imperatives of due process.”

In response to the Caperton ruling, and in an effort to enrich debate in North Carolina about the state’s judicial elections system, three Elon Law professors offered public opinion on the issue.

In an opinion column for Court Watch of North Carolina, an organization committed to improving the North Carolina judicial system, Alan Woodlief, Associate Dean for Admissions and Administration and Associate Professor of Law, writes “We must continue to strive to improve the judicial selection process and to explore alternatives such as the adoption of merit and appointive retention systems . . . Given the concerns highlighted by Caperton, this would seem a prime time for the General Assembly to revisit this question.”

Professor Andrew Haile, in an opinion column for Greensboro’s News and Record, called for a significant change in North Carolina’s system for judicial elections, writing, “It is time for North Carolina to reconsider judicial elections. Other states have successfully implemented merit selection of judges with the involvement of bipartisan selection committees . . . Other states have successfully used retention elections. North Carolina should consider these alternatives to our current system. The successful operation of the courts is too important to allow our current method for selecting judges to continue.”

Professor Scott Gaylord also weighed in on the topic, giving an interview with WGHP Fox 8 News on the need for judicial reform in North Carolina. Gaylord has also coauthored an article on judicial elections in North Carolina, published in the October 2008 edition of The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies.

Click on the E-Cast links to the right of this article to read the complete versions of each faculty member’s publication on this issue.

Click here to read the full Supreme Court ruling in Caperton v. Massey Coal Co.

Philip Craft,
7/9/2009 8:25 AM