Judicial slating near death?

November 7, 2012
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With legal challenges and a new push from the Indianapolis Bar Association pending, is this a signal that the way judges in Marion County have been chosen since the 1970s is about to end?

In August, the Indianapolis Bar Association announced it will push to reform the judicial election and selection process in Marion County. Marion Superior judges are selected in a unique way – so unique that it’s believed to be the only process like it in the country.

Trying to explain the process to people not from Marion County can lead to puzzled looks. Through a slating process, the Republican and Democratic parties choose an equal amount of candidates from the respective parties to put on the primary ballot. Those who aren’t slated by a party can run against the slate, but they don’t have the weight of a political party backing them.

The way the system is set up, though, leads to the judges essentially winning once they make it through the primary election, because there are exactly the same number of judicial positions as candidates running from the two parties. You can pick up to 20 judges, according to the instructions on the ballot, and the ballot conveniently lists 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats. The only way one would lose in the general election is if the candidate didn’t get a single vote.

In an unsurprising result, all the candidates were re-elected Nov. 7.

A lawsuit filed Nov. 1 by the ACLU of Indiana on behalf of Common Cause argues this setup doesn’t allow Marion County residents to “cast a meaningful vote” because the general election becomes a “mere formality.” The lawsuit seeks an injunction against enforcement of the law that spells out of how Marion Superior judges are elected.

The debate on slating has been going on for years. The process took hold in Marion County following the Watergate scandal in the 1970s. I’ve never understood how people can say the process is the right one for Marion County because the election is pretty much won during the primaries. Some people choose not to vote in the primaries because they don’t want to declare a political party in order to do so.

Those who run against the slate are at an obvious disadvantage since they don’t have the money or backing of their party. Five political candidates – including three from Marion Superior Court – filed a lawsuit in April claiming they were illegally denied access to public information in the Marion County Board of Voter Registration’s database.

There have been other lawsuits and inquiries into the slating process recently.

Does all this attention on the Marion County election process mean there is enough support to encourage legislators to change how judges take the bench in the county? What are the arguments for the current system and why should it be changed?

 

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