The way Marion Superior judges are elected is unconstitutional, a suit filed Thursday by Common Cause and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana alleges.
“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” of the U.S. Constitution, according to the complaint filed in federal court in Common Cause v. Indiana Secretary of State, 1:12-CV-1603.
Common Cause, a nationwide nonpartisan group whose mission is to promote open, honest government and voting rights, seeks an injunction against enforcement of Indiana Code 33-33-49-13. The suit says that law, which sets forth the process for electing judges in the Marion Superior Courts, is “unique in Indiana, and perhaps in the nation.”
State law permits each of the major political parties to conduct primary elections to fill exactly half of the judicial seats, “which renders the general election a mere formality,” according to a statement from ACLU of Indiana.
“Voters in Marion County who do not cast a ballot in the primary election, therefore, have absolutely no say in electing judges to the Marion Superior Court. This process means that even people who do vote in the primary election have a say in only half of the judgeships to be filled,” the statement says.
The process of “slating” of Marion County Superior judge races has drawn criticism, since each candidate who earned the party’s endorsement on the primary ballot contributed identical amounts to the local party before each party’s slating convention that preceded the primary. For Democrats, the contribution was $13,100; for Republicans, it was $12,000, according to a review of campaign contributions earlier this year by Indiana Lawyer.
Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, said, “For too long the party bosses have controlled the judicial selection process in Marion County and denied voters any meaningful role in it. Marion County voters deserve the same opportunities as voters in other counties to elect judges of their choice. The judicial branch, as arbiters of the law, must be above reproach.”
ACLU of Indiana Executive Director Jane Henegar said, “We are especially mindful this close to the General Election that the right to vote is precious. Our democracy is premised on the right of each citizen to have a meaningful vote. Americans should never be forced to muffle their voices in our government for anyone’s convenience, least of all for political parties.”
The Indianapolis Bar Association earlier this year also resolved to push anew for reform of the Marion County judicial election and selection process.
Indiana Attorney General’s office spokesman Bryan Corbin said Thursday that the office had not been served, but that it would defend the suit.
“Whenever a private plaintiff attempts to sue the Secretary of State’s office in its official capacity, the attorney general represents that office in court. Our legal representation of our state government clients is required by statute,” Corbin said in a statement.