Alabama: bill would repeal mandatory judicial recusal for campaign contributions, replace with new “rebuttable presumption” system

Since 1995 (HB 194 of 1995) Alabama has, at least on the books, had a mandatory recusal statute with respect to campaign contributions: a $2000 contribution to a trial judge or $4000 to an appellate judge would require the judge leave the case (specific law here).

The provision, however, was only sporadically enforced because it was not precleared under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

HB 543 of 2014 as introduced repeals the 1995 $2000/$4000 limits and replaces it with a new system

  1. “Party” in a case means actual party, their immediate family, anyone holding 5% of value in a business named in the case, attorneys and their firms.
  2. Judges must recuse “as a result of a substantial campaign contribution or electioneering communication” by a party if a reasonable person would perceive judge’s ability to be impartial are impaired OR there is a “serious, objective probability of actual bias” due to the campaign contribution.
  3. There is a rebuttable presumption that a judge must recuse where 25% or more of contributions to the judge’s campaign came directly from the party AND the contributions were made at a time when it was reasonably foreseeable that the case could come before the judge.

HB 543 has been assigned to the House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee.