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Editorial: Preservation of judicial impartiality a win

September 1, 2010

Here at the newspaper, we don’t like to see anything put the brakes on the sharing of opinions.

Yet in what might seem to be completely contrary to our position, we applaud the recent decision by a panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Torrey Bauer, David Certo, and Indiana Right to Life v. Randall T. Shepard, et al.

It upholds an earlier decision by U.S. District Judge Theresa Springmann, who found that the Indiana Supreme Court can regulate judicial speech through its canons, and that its rules don’t violate a judge or judicial candidate’s constitutional free speech or association rights. You can read all about it in a story in this issue of the newspaper.

Indiana Right to Life had sent surveys to judicial candidates asking them to state their views about abortion, euthanasia, and other social issues. Most declined to complete the survey, pointing to an advisory opinion from the Judicial Qualifications Commission and Indiana’s judicial canons.

The 7th Circuit decision seeks to preserve the judicial system’s impartiality, which is crucial for its continued existence. Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote: “The judicial system depends on its reputation for impartiality; it is public acceptance, rather than the sword or the purse, that leads decisions to be obeyed and averts vigilantism and civil strife. Unless a judge who speaks on behalf of a party, or serves as a party’s officer, recuses in all of these cases – which is to say, almost every case that comes before a court – the public would have good reason to believe that the judge is deciding according to the party’s platform rather than the rule of law. Allowing judges to participate in politics would poison the reputation of the whole judiciary, and seriously impair public confidence, without which the judiciary cannot function.”

From our layman’s perspective, judges who have to ask anyone for money to fund a political campaign are at risk of being poisoned by that process. We believe their personal beliefs on the social issues of the day are no one’s business but their own. We want judges who decide cases based on the rule of law, and nothing else.•
 

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