On Tuesday, the day before state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Albright was laid to rest in Parkersburg, I got an unsolicited e-mail from a public relations flak in northern Virginia, judging from the 703 area code on her phone number. The e-mail offered to put me in touch with “a West Virginia legal expert on the type of jurist Governor Manchin should select to fill the high court vacancy.”
Curious as to who would have hired a p.r. firm regarding Albright’s replacement, I called CRC Public Relations and asked who their client is, and they told me: the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group that, according to Wikipedia.org, at least, advocates a strict originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Philosophically, I was told, the Society’s 40,000 or so members believe in judicial restraint over what they see as judicial activism, or, as the Society’s Web site says, that “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.”
All three of the local lawyers quoted in the e-mail — Blair Gardner, Luke Lafferre and Robert Ryan — are members. In fact, “Booter” Ryan is one of two attorneys listed on the group’s site as contacts for the West Virginia chapter.
(Astute readers will note that Gardner’s bio on Jackson Kelly’s Web site doesn’t say that he is a member. I called him and asked him, and he confirmed his association with the Society.)
According to their online bios: Gardner was assistant general counsel for Arch Coal and has represented coal companies in environmental litigation; Lafferre has defended occupational disease suits where workers claim to have been harmed by exposure to asbestos, silica and coal dust; and Ryan focuses on defense in railroad litigation, particularly occupational disease and personal injury.
So if you think that big business’s interest in the composition of our lil’ ol’ Supreme Court ended with Massey executive Don Blankenship’s involvement with Chief Justice’s Brent Benjamin’s election, guess again.
And for the record, these are the insights that the p.r. person offered to whet my journalistic curiosity:
Gardner: “WhileÂ one may disagree with Justice Albright’s decision in any particular case, no one will disagree about his dedication to the state and its people. Â WhoeverÂ Governor ManchinÂ appoints, that person should possess that same spirit of service.Â AfterÂ we honorÂ Justice Albright’sÂ memory, we shouldÂ have a public discussion about how aÂ person best serves the publicÂ as a justice of our Supreme Court.”
Lafferre: “The vacancy on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals left after the unfortunate passing of Justice Joseph Albright will be filled by appointment by Governor Manchin.Â The five members of the state Supreme Court exercise a great deal of power and influence in theÂ state, making the philosophy of the next justice extremely important.Â The Court makes decisions that affect not only the parties to a particular case, but also thatÂ can affect every aspect of our lives.Â Â Judicial humility and an interest in the evenhanded administration of justice is what’s needed in the next justice on the Court.â€
Ryan: “Justice Albright was a dedicated and long time public servant to the people of West Virginia.Â While his passing is mourned in West Virginia, the opportunity for Governor Manchin to appoint a justice cannot be overlooked.Â Governor ManchinÂ mustÂ utilize this appointment power to select aÂ jurist who will be bound by and follow the law and resist the temptation to legislate from the bench.”
Does anyone care to hazard a guess as to what kind of justice these guys would like to see appointed to the bench?