Supreme Court Review 2016/2017 TERM
SUNDAY, JULY 23, 2017
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Issue:  Judicial Recusal

Williams v. Pennsylvania

15-5040

QUESTION(S) PRESENTED

1. In Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., 556 U.S. 868, 881 (2009), this Court held that due process requires an "objective" inquiry into judicial bias. The question presented is:

Are the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments violated where the presiding Chief Justice of a State Supreme Court declines to recuse himself in a capital case where he had personally approved the decision to pursue capital punishment against Petitioner in his prior capacity as elected District Attorney and continued to head the District Attorney's Office that defended the death verdict on appeal; where, in his State Supreme Court election campaign, the Chief Justice expressed strong support for capital punishment, with reference to the number of defendants he had "sent" to death row, including Petitioner; and where he then, as Chief Justice, reviewed a ruling by the state post- conviction court that his office committed prosecutorial misconduct under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), when it prosecuted and sought death against Petitioner?

2. In Aetna Life Insurance Co. v. Lavoie, 475 U.S. 813 (1986), this Court left open the question whether the Constitution is violated by the bias, appearance of bias, or potential bias of one member of a multimember tribunal where that member did not cast the deciding vote. The circuits and states remain split on that question. The question presented is:

Are the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments violated by the participation of a potentially biased jurist on a multimember tribunal deciding a capital case, regardless of whether his vote is ultimately decisive?

DECISION

Decided June 9, 2016 HOLDING

Chief Justice Castille’s denial of the recusal motion and his subsequent judicial participation violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. An unconstitutional failure to recuse constitutes structural error that is “not amenable” to harmless-error review, regardless of whether the judge’s vote was dispositive.

Agree image Justice Sotomayor
Agree Sotomayor
Agree image Justice Breyer
Agree Breyer
Dissent Author image Justice Thomas
Dissent Author Thomas
Recused image Justice Scalia
Recused Scalia
Dissent Author image Chief Justice Roberts
Dissent Author Roberts
Author image Justice Kennedy
Author Kennedy
Agree image Justice Ginsburg
Agree Ginsburg
Agree w/ Roberts image Justice Alito
Agree w/ Roberts Alito
Agree image Justice Kagan
Agree Kagan

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. ROBERTS, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ALITO, J., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Text of Opinion
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ORAL ARGUMENT

Argued February 29, 2016

Transcript
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CERTIORARI STAGE

Granted October 1, 2015

Certiorari Stage Documents
      Petition for Certiorari (pdf download)
Brief in Opposition (pdf download)
Petitioner's Reply (pdf download)

PROCEEDING BELOW

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Eastern District
Decided December 15, 2014
pdf download


SUPREME PODCAST COVERAGE

DATE TITLE CASE STAGE LISTEN NOW
2015-12-06 Introduction to 2015-16 Term - Five Case You Should Know Certiorari Granted go to coverage
2016-03-06 Judicial Recusal Oral Argument go to coverage