This article originally provided by
September 24, 2005
Benjamin shows need for judicial selection reform
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals met in Huntington on Tuesday to
hear arguments in a case in which
11 coal companies argue that the state's severance tax on coal is really a sales
Up to $500 million in collected taxes on coal exports could be at stake.
But that wasn't the only question of the day.
One of the five justices hearing Tuesday's arguments was Brent Benjamin, the
Republican elected last year with the help of more than $3 million in
advertising paid for by Don Blankenship, chairman and chief executive officer of
Massey Energy. Massey is West Virginia's largest coal producer and one of the 11
companies seeking to overturn West Virginia's coal severance tax as it is
presently collected on coal sold for export.
Benjamin did not recuse himself from the case. He should have. His
impartiality is in doubt given the amount of help he received from Blankenship's
money last year.
Benjamin is part of a justice system that relies on partisan political
elections to select state Supreme Court justices, county circuit court judges
and county magistrates. Any Supreme Court justice who accepts campaign
contributions from any person, party, group or political action committee, or
who benefits from third-party help such as Benjamin received from Blankenship,
is similarly tainted. Benjamin's case is more extreme than others, but the same
concern applies to all.
This newspaper endorsed Benjamin last year. It has also called for a
different method of selecting justices, judges and magistrates. Nonpartisan
elections won't do. They are merely partisan elections in disguise. An
appointment process relying on the governor and the Legislature probably is the
Unless, of course, voters really want a state Supreme Court consisting of
five justices whose ability to accumulate campaign IOUs is their primary
qualification for office.