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Black lawmakers oppose Marion County judge selection bill

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A proposal to create a 14-member merit-selection commission to nominate Marion Superior judges would harm minority representation on the bench of the state’s largest county, members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus said in a statement Monday as the bill awaited second reading on the House floor.

Senate Bill 352 is the General Assembly’s response to federal court rulings that struck down as unconstitutional the former slating system by which Democratic and Republican parties filled judicial vacancies.

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, was an original sponsor of the bill but joined in opposition to the composition of the commission that would be created. “It seems to us that this legislation flies in the face of the concerns expressed by the federal court system, which ruled that the way Marion County had been electing judges was unconstitutional because it did not provide residents with a ‘meaningful vote.‘ Instead of giving residents the same right to vote as is provided in 88 other counties in Indiana, SB 352 takes away direct election of judges completely.”

The original bill provided for a 16-member commission, half of whom would be lawmakers. Amendments passed since call for a 14-member panel consisting of:

• Four lawyers appointed by the Democratic and Republican leaders of both houses of the General Assembly;
• Four lawyers appointed by the Indianapolis Bar Association, Marion County Bar Association, Indiana Trial Lawyers Association and Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana;
• Four members, two each appointed by the chairs of the Marion County Democratic and Republican parties;
• The chief judge of the Indiana Court of Appeals or her designee; and
• The chief justice of Indiana or her designee.

“We believe that judges should be elected from the start, and their party affiliation should be identified on the ballot,” said Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis. “Allowing judges to be elected and identified by party would ensure that minorities would have the opportunity to become judges. The bill does not have any requirement for diversity, which means the selection committee and the court system would not reflect the makeup of Marion County.”

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