It was all over the news when Federal Judge Henry E. Hudson of Richmond, Va., ruled unconstitutional a key part of the recently-enacted federal health care law. The mainstream press was a lot less diligent in reporting Judge Hudson’s connection to an outfit, Campaign Solutions, whose favored candidates worked to defeat the law.
The multiple stories in the New York Times about the ruling made no mention of Campaign Solutions or of the judge’s financial tie to it. My local paper revealed almost nothing about it. If I hadn’t happened to tune into MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow the night the ruling was announced I’d have had no inkling that it might be tainted. Olbermann and Maddow correctly saw the inappropriateness of the judge being an investor in a company that helped fight the law and who receives income from it.
Campaign Solutions is a major player in Republican politics. The judge’s stock ownership predates his appointment to the bench. The Senate Judiciary Committee was negligent in not demanding that he divest himself of the investment as a condition of his confirmation. The judge should have voluntarily sold the stock, especially before sitting on the politically explosive health care case. Either that or he should have recused himself from the litigation.
The financial investments of federal judges are troubling. The Associated Press reported not long ago, “More than half of the federal judges in districts where the bulk of Gulf-oil-spill related lawsuits are pending have financial connections to the oil and gas industry, complicating the task of finding judges without conflicts to hear the cases.”
Some of the conflicts are blatant. The federal judge who ruled against the Obama administration’s moratorium on further deepwater drilling for oil owned stock in the very company whose rig caused the massive spill that triggered the moratorium.
Years ago the Des Moines Register found that 73 judges on the U.S. courts of appeal–the courts just below the Supreme Court–owned stock in 581 different U.S. companies. The situation is likely little different today. The very large number of subsidiaries owned by the companies ought to cause the press to dig into federal court dockets to determine how many judges are participating in cases in violation of the strict ethics rules for judges that prohibit them from ruling in a dispute if they own even a single share in a party to it. When I once made that inquiry of the Supreme Court I found that several high court justices had financial interests in the cases they ruled on.