Years ago we were a little bemused when we first heard a judge on the Court of Appeals who happened to be facing a retention vote worry aloud that remaining on the bench may not be such a sure thing.
We were acquainted enough with this particular judge’s legal work to believe that this judge had nothing to fear, and yet it was plain that this jurist’s words were not mere lip-service and an attempt to sound “humble.” We learned of no campaign aimed at turning this judge out of office, and of course the judge was retained.
This particular judge worried aloud again during the most recent election cycle about remaining on the bench, again in spite of no organized effort to turn the judge out of office.
But one need only look outside Indiana’s borders to glimpse the sort of goings on that give reasonable people a reason to feel anxious about the state of judicial elections in general and merit selection in particular.
All five COA judges were retained by large margins, and all five trial judges in the Lake Superior Court and the one St. Joseph Superior Court judge were all kept on the bench.
Yet merit selection is no guarantee that sanity and reason will always prevail.
Look to the west, where three of Iowa’s justices were turned out of office after a retention vote on Election Day 2010. The three justices on Iowa’s Supreme Court were targeted by groups seeking to oust them after the high court there in 2009 unanimously ruled in the case that cleared the way for same-sex couples to marry under state law.
Or look directly north to Michigan, where in spite of running “non-partisan” judicial elections, Republicans are said to have gained control of the Michigan Supreme Court with a 4-3 majority.
Or look immediately to the west to Illinois, where the chief justice was forced to undertake a brisk campaign to keep his seat on the bench after becoming targeted by interests seeking to portray him as soft of crime, and other groups seeking caps on jury awards in malpractice cases.
We firmly believe in the right to free speech and the rights of citizens to express their displeasure with their judges. But to be frank, we find the prospect of witnessing the members of our appellate court filling the trunks of their cars with campaign materials to distribute as they dash across the state to lobby to keep their seats on the bench a bit nightmarish.
We have it on reasonable authority that an attempt to turn back judicial merit selection will not be put forth during the coming session of the Indiana General Assembly.
Given the election cycle we’ve just witnessed, we’re not putting much faith in that proclamation.•