Yesterday, the House and Governmental Affairs Committee favorably reported HB 206, a bill by Rep. Kyle Green, Jr. (Democrat, Marrero), to remove party labels from the ballots of candidates in judicial elections. The bill will soon go to the House floor for a vote. Now, Mr. Green may be a well-liked figure in the legislature, and he certainly presented the bill as non-partisan in nature, but the practical effects of this bill would be anything but non-partisan. Allow me to explain:
Most states in this country, including Louisiana, have chosen to elect their judges. The selection of judges is reposed in the voters of the state for good reason. When judges are elected, the voter has a direct say in the choice of those who will enforce the laws under which he or she lives, and that is democracy at work.
Now it is true that a minority of states have chosen to appoint judges in an attempt to avoid “dirty” election politics, the theory being that the political infighting endemic to elections somehow tarnishes or biases the judiciary. But this is the purest myth. In states which appoint judges, the appointment process is not depoliticized, far from it. A far more sordid form of politics takes place when judges are appointed in the Governor’s office or some back room of the legislature or judicial appointment commission, out of the public’s eye. Worst of all, the judiciary ceases to be accountable to the public, and that cannot be good for the long-term survival of democracy.
Fortunately, Louisiana, like most of her sister states, has chosen the correct path in electing judges. And if we, the people, are responsible for electing our judges, does it not obviously follow that we should have the maximum amount of information about the candidates when making our choices for the judiciary?
The voters rightly wish to know about the previous career, and where applicable, the previously decided cases of a judicial candidate. Now no one believes that the party affiliation of a judicial candidate will determine the outcome of a case ruling- God knows, there must be millions of cases proving this point. But the voters do want to know the judicial philosophy of a candidate, and what is a candidate’s judicial philosophy but a lifetime of experience seen through the prism of his or her legal training?
Party affiliation is an indicator of one’s judicial philosophy, not the only one certainly, but a fairly good one. As judges must rule on the law, and make findings of fact in cases where juries are not tasked with this duty, doesn’t the public have a right to know a candidate’s judicial philosophy? Is it right to remove party labels, which are indicators of one’s judicial philosophy, from the public on Election Day? Of course not.
Let us not forget that state court judges rule on the vast majority of criminal cases. Researchers consistently find that upwards of 95% of all felony convictions occur in state courts, and the percentage of rape and murder convictions handled by state courts edges into the high nineties. Doesn’t the public have a right to know whether a candidate’s judicial philosophy may predispose him or her to be “soft on crime” or “tough on crime?” As I write these lines, are we not living through the sharpest distinction in the major parties’ overall judicial philosophies in this nation’s history?
Judicial election campaigns have been highly politicized for years, and that is not going away. The public is charged with selecting our judges, and the public has the right to the maximum amount of information when making these choices. Besides, as one state representative commented yesterday, “Any judge who wishes to avoid a party label can easily do so by running as a ‘no-party’ candidate.” I need only add that prohibiting a candidate who wishes to run with a party label is almost certainly a violation of the 1st Amendment’s freedom of speech and association.
No, let’s keep our judicial elections as they are, with party labels attached to those judicial candidates who choose to run with a party affiliation. Contact your state representative today at (225) 342-6945, and urge your representative to vote against HB206!
LOUIS GURVICH, Chairman
Republican Party of Louisiana