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Massey's Blankenship Draws More Attacks

Near coal country, a newspaper’s editorial page editor joined the chorus of calls for the firing or resignation of Massey Energy Co. chairman and CEO Don Blankenship.

Dan Radmacher of the Roanoke Times urged the firing of Blankenship on the heels of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 workers. “To Blankenship, safety and environmental regulations are clearly nothing more than annoyances and distractions from Massey’s mission: moving coal,” Radmacher wrote.

An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on “a drumbeat of calls for a shake-up” and predicted a scheduled annual Massey shareholder meeting May 18 may be rowdy.

The company’s stock nosedived Friday after it was reported that Massey Energy is under criminal investigation by the FBI, a Reuters article said.

Blankenship is best known to Gavel Grab readers for spending  $3 million in 2004 to help elect a state Supreme Court justice. That led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling, in Caperton v. Massey, that large campaign expenditures could create an unacceptable potential for bias.

A column in the Charleston Gazette by Howard Swint said West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin, who Blankenship helped elect, should step down. The column discussed Caperton and called Justice Benjamin “an apparent  lapdog for the coal industry.”

You can learn more about Caperton from Gavel Grab, and from Justice at Stake’s resource page about the case.

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Calls Grow for Blankenship Resignation

A group of large pension funds has joined critics calling on Don Blankenship, chairman and CEO of Massey Energy, to resign following a disaster at a mine operated by the company.

They include the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

Blankenship told the newspaper he didn’t plan to quit.  “I’ve done what I could to run the company properly in every regard,” he said. In a longer Wall Street Journal story based on an interview with Blankenship, he was quoted defending the company’s safety practices as tops in the business.

Blankenship is known to Gavel Grab readers for spending  $3 million in 2004 to help elect a state Supreme Court justice. His coal company went on to benefit from two critical votes by the justice to overturn a massive jury award against it. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled in Caperton v. Massey that large campaign expenditures could create an unacceptable potential for bias.

To learn more about Blankenship in the news after the mine disaster, click here for Gavel Grab posts; for more about Caperton, click here for other Gavel Grab articles.

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Will Mine Blast Probe Pinpoint Blankenship?

Can blame be assigned personally to Massey Energy Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship in the deadly explosion at Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia?

That’s the question that writer Michael Shnayerson frames in a Vanity Fair article headlined, “The Truth About Don Blankenship.” Shnayerson, who wrote the 2008 book “Coal River,” offers some details about Blankenship’s direct and hands-on management style in the article but defers judgment to government investigators about blame for conditions at Upper Big Branch.

“Did Appalachia’s most notorious coal baron sign off himself on the decision to not worry about coal-dust build-ups and ventilation problems with deadly methane?” Shnayerson asks. He says these were “the very same issues that caused the fire at Aracoma” (a Massey mine) that killed two men.

A Blankenship memo about the high importance of running coal aided prosecutors  in concluding that Massey violated safety standards, and “Aracoma pleaded guilty to 10 criminal charges.”

The article presents details about Blankenship’s hands-on style, including his helicopter visits to Upper Big Branch, a red phone in a manager’s office “with a direct line to Mr. B,” and requirements that Blankenship clear even the smallest purchase orders.

Blankenship is best known to Gavel Grab readers for spending  $3 million in 2004 to help elect a state Supreme Court justice. Read more

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Twitter Alert: JAS to Cover Holder Hearing

On Wednesday, April 14, at 9:30 a.m., Justice at Stake will attend the Senate Judiciary Hearing regarding oversight of the Department of Justice. Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to testify. Follow us on Twitter, at for live coverage of the hearing, by JAS federal assistant Caitlin Russi.

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In Illinois, an Arresting Campaign Finance Timeline

The old adage is that a picture is worth 1,000 words. Perhaps an interactive timeline with lots of pictures is worth even more.

You can find a snappy timeline chronicling Illinois’ history as the “Wild West” of campaign finance over 40 years, at the Website of Medill Reports, produced by journalism graduate students at Northwestern University’s Medill School. It features photos of cash changing hands and arrested governors.

Illinois has seen six governors arrested in the past four decades, and not surprisingly, “moves toward laws that create transparency in funding have been slow in coming,” notes a short article accompanying the timeline. To learn about campaign contribution limits signed into law in December, turn to Gavel Grab.

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Scholarly Symposium on Caperton is Published

A Symposium on Caperton v. Massey, the landmark Supreme Court decision about campaign spending and judicial recusal, is in print from Syracuse Law Review.

Among Gavel Grab’s missions is to circulate resources on protecting fair and impartial courts. To that end, you can find two of the Symposium articles free online from the Social Science Research Network. They are James Sample’s   Caperton: Correct Today, Compelling Tomorrow” and Ronald D. Rotunda’s “Judicial Disqualification in the Aftermath of Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co.”

Gavel Grab will try to provide links if the other papers become available for free. The authors include Dahlia Lithwick, Steven Lubet, Bruce A. Green, Elizabeth B. Wydra, and Andrew L. Frey and Jeffery A. Berger. By clicking here you can see the table of contents. To read about Caperton, visit Gavel Grab or the Justice at Stake resource page on the decision.

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No Broadcast Expected for Prop 8 Trial Conclusion

It appears  there no longer is a possibility of broadcast coverage for closing arguments in the California same-sex marriage trial.

A San Francisco newspaper had brought up that possibility last month, but a recent court-issued press release stated there will be no broadcast, according to On Top magazine. “Certain recent articles have reported incorrect information about possible broadcasting of closing arguments in Perry et. al. v. Schwarzenegger et. al.,” the magazine quoted the press release as saying.

At issue in the trial is a legal challenge to California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Witnesses have given testimony in the potentially historic case, but opposing sides have yet to deliver closing arguments. Background is available from Gavel Grab.

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Monday Media Summary


Crain’s Cleveland Business: Proposal to end elections for high court
gains steam
Jay Miller – 1/25/2010

Illusory Tenant: Ask the Brennan Center


New York Magazine/Daily Intel: 50 Prisoners to Remain at Guantánamo
Chris Rovzar – 1/22/2010

BBC News: Indefinite Guantanamo detention plans condemned

Washington Independent: Why Not Just Keep GTMO Open?
Spencer Ackerman – 1/22/2010

Courthouse News Service: DOJ Appears to Flip Flop on Guantanamo
1/22/2010 Don’t Keep This Campaign Promise, Mr. President
John Boehner – 1/22/2010


National Law Journal: Televising trials
David R. Fine – 1/25/2010

FireDogLake/The Seminal: Prop 8 Trial Closing Arguments To Be Delayed
Teddy Partridge – 1/22/2010

San Francisco Chronicle: Federal court has become the new feelings forum
Debra J. Saunders – 1/24/2010


Christian Science Monitor: Abortion in spotlight with Roe v. Wade anniversary, Kansas trial
Mark Guarino – 1/22/2010

Read more

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President Resubmits Judicial Nominees

President Obama has renominated Louis Butler and Edward Chen, two  controversial candidates for federal district judgeships.

Butler was one of seven Obama nominees for various offices who failed to gain Senate approval before the chamber adjourned in 2009. The Wall Street Journal reported that “sending the names back signaled GOP opposition to the nominees.”

Butler and Chen will face a new challenge in the Senate this time around. Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts brought the total number of Senate Republicans to 41, making it impossible for the Democrats alone to block a potential filibuster without some help from the other party.

Butler, who was knocked off the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a bitter 2008 election, has been criticized by the Journal as too liberal on product-liability cases. He has been nominated to be a federal district judge in Wisconsin.

Chen, a federal magistrate judge, also stands to have a difficult confirmation battle. Although he would be the first Asian American federal judge in the Northern District of California, Chen has been criticized for statements on the benefit of judicial diversity and his 16 years of work as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

To learn more about these nominations,  click here.

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Tuesday Media Summary


San Jose Mercury News: Supreme Court blows it with YouTube ruling in
Prop. 8 case
Scott Herhold – 1/19/2010

One News Now: Will democracy prevail in Prop. 8 trial?
Charlie Butts – 1/18/2010

Seattle Post Intelligencer/AP: Same-sex marriage judge dealt with
other gay cases

NY Times: Justices Better at Precedent Than Prescience
Adam Liptak – 1/19/2010

True/Slant: Arch conservative Justice Scalia becomes poster boy for liberal judicial activism

Harper’s Magazine: The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle
Scott Horton – 1/18/2009

Main Justice: ‘Gitmo’ Detainee to be Tried in D.C. Area?
Charleston Post And Courier: A dangerous legal vacuum
Editorial –

Wisconsin Radio Network: Supreme Court watcher still awaiting big decision
Bob Hague – 1/18/2010

National Journal: A Silver Lining For Campaign Reformers?
Eliza Newlin Carney – 1/19/2010


Marietta Times: Justice by call: Debate wrestles with selecting judges by election or appointment
Brad Bauer – 1/18/2010

Read more

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