By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday left in place the top Illinois court's ruling throwing out a huge $10.1 billion verdict against Philip Morris USA, rejecting an appeal focusing on accusations that a judge in the case was biased in favor of the cigarette maker.

Plaintiffs in the case said Lloyd Karmeier, an elected member of the Illinois Supreme Court, should have stepped aside because he made statements during his 2014 election campaign criticizing the judgment and had received campaign contributions from a group partly funded by Philip Morris.

The justices rejected the appeal without comment.

The state high court's decision voided one of the largest U.S. verdicts against a tobacco company related to smoking and tobacco-smoke exposure, which the U.S. surgeon general estimates causes 480,000 premature deaths annually in the country.

The U.S. Supreme Court previously had put the matter on hold while it decided a Pennsylvania case also focusing on whether a state Supreme Court justice should have stepped aside.

The court ruled on June 9 that Pennsylvania's former top judge should have recused himself from the death penalty case. As a senior prosecutor earlier in his career, the judge had authorized seeking capital punishment against the defendant in the case, but refused to recuse himself when the state's Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty against the man.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Will Dunham)