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Judge sets January hearing in Marion County judicial slating suit

December 16, 2013

A federal judge has summoned attorneys for Gov. Mike Pence, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson and members of the Indiana Election Commission to a pretrial conference in a lawsuit challenging the way Marion Superior judges are elected.

Magistrate Judge Debra McVicker Lynch issued an order last week calling together parties next month for an initial pretrial conference. The suit, brought by Common Cause and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, seeks to declare unconstitutional the slating system used to elect Indianapolis judges.

In setting the conference, Lynch said counsel for named parties are expected to appear in person and “must have thorough knowledge of the case.” The judge indicated that their clients could attend, but were not required to do so.

Common Cause and the ACLU are challenging the “slating” system in Marion County. Under the slating system, the Democrat and Republican parties each nominate or slate judges to fill a fixed and equal number of judgeships that the law assures each party of filling. The complaint seeks to block future enforcement of I.C. 33-33-49-13.

“The failure of Indiana law to permit registered voters in Marion County to cast a meaningful vote for all seats on the Marion Superior Court violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the complaint says.

The system has been derided by many as corrupt. Those who earned their party’s blessing and were slated in 2012 also each gave generously to their respective parties, an Indiana Lawyer review of campaign finance records found. For Democrats, the contribution was $13,100; for Republicans, $12,000.

The conference is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 17 in room 227 of the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Indianapolis.

The case before Chief Judge Richard Young in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Indiana is Common Cause Indiana v. Indiana Secretary of State in her official capacity, Individual Members of the Indiana Election Commission, in their official capacities, Governor of the State of Indiana, in his official capacity, 1:12-cv-1603-RLY-DML. Young in September dismissed the state’s motion to dismiss the suit.

“Although Indiana’s ballot access statute … has been found constitutionally adequate … the court is not convinced that the statute’s constitutionality with respect to a candidate’s access to the ballot applies here with equal force, where the claim is not ballot access, but whether a citizen’s vote in the general election matters,” Young wrote.








 
 

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