Say you own a big coal company that's been sued for fraud, and hit with a judgment for $50 million. Not small change, right? Of course you have to appeal. This is "bet the company" litigation, and you have to win.
And let's say that there happens to be a judicial election coming up. What do you do? Well, maybe you drop $3 million on the election campaign of one of the candidates, more than all his other supporters, including his election committee, combined. and he wins by 50,000 votes.
And then you have to do your appeal in front of the court that now contains the candidate you spent $3 million to elect.
What does he do? Does he recuse himself? Does he tell the world that you've invested all that money in him and he can't judge the case fairly? Or does he decide that the appearance of impropriety is enough to mandate that he recuse himself?
No, in this case what he does is stay in the case and then rule in favor of the coal company that gave him $3 million. Probably just a coincidence.
Although that's not how the Supreme Court saw it. What they decided today is that all of us, even those of us who don't have $3 million to spend on a judge, have the right to due process of law, and that includes the right to have a court that hasn't already been bought and paid for by the other side.
At least, that's what the majority thinks. The minority, Bush's two appointees and the Scalia/Thomas twins, take a different view. They think it's going to b too burdensome for a court to decide if the judge was unduly prejudiced by the pots of money that the corporate party (and it's always going to be a corporate party, isn't it?) has thrown around.. After all, we can't really expect a court to spend the effort to make sure its processes are fair, can we?
So when the Senate is considering the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Court, and deciding whether she's too biased to sit on the Court because she likes to eat beans, think about the four right-wingers who are on the Court now, and how they favor a party that would spend millions of dollars to buy a vote on an important case.