The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in a landmark runaway election spending case, Caperton v. Massey, is getting renewed attention as a key player in the West Virginia Supreme Court election at issue prepares to face a criminal trial.
In “The People v. the Coal Baron,” a New York Times magazine article, writer David Segal profiles Donald Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy, who faces criminal charges in connection with a 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine that killed 29 men. The article examines Blankenship’s political influence when he was Massey CEO.
Blankenship spent $3 million in 2004 to help elect a West Virginia 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. In Caperton, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for the justice to hear a case involving the financial interests of a major spender in support his election campaign. It required the West Virginia justice to disqualify himself.