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Bill would make judge elections partisan

2011-02-16T00:00:00Z Bill would make judge elections partisanBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON IR State Bureau Helena Independent Record
February 16, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Candidates for District Court judges and Supreme Court justices in Montana would be required to run on partisan labels instead of as nonpartisan office seekers as they now do, under a proposal heard Tuesday.

House Bill 521, by Rep. Michael More, R-Gallatin Gateway, is a proposed referendum that would appear on the November 2012 ballot if the Legislature approves it.

“The issue is greater transparency in the judicial branch,” More told the House State Administration Committee.

It would help the voters to know “the individual biases brought to the bench” by anyone running for a judgeship, he said.

“We all bring our biases to the table,” More said, adding: “I think it’s just a matter of maturity to require that (judicial candidates) reveal those biases going into an election.”

The bill drew support from Sen. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman, and a longtime critic of the Supreme Court. Balyeat is sponsoring a bill to require Supreme Court candidates to run in regional districts instead of statewide.

He said 27 states elect their judges, and 15 of those have judges “with partisan elections or partisan involvement.”

“As courts throughout America and especially here in Montana have become increasingly activist and are legislating from the bench, there’s really only one way to put a check on that — transparency for voters,” Balyeat said.

Not only do these courts legislate from the bench, but “they become a super legislature,” he said. “They retroactively change law. They can throw out an initiative or law.”

The opponents to the bill included Ed Bartlett, representing the Montana Judges Association and the State Bar of Montana.

When he was president of the State Bar, Bartlett said he met his counterparts in other states with partisan judicial elections.

“To a person, those people have told me it is not a good idea,” Bartlett said. “There is a reason we have an independent judiciary.”

He quoted this saying: “Justice is blind. It is not biased.” More later called this adage “wistful naiveté.”

Another opponent, Niki Zupanic, public policy director of the ACLU of Montana, said, “We strongly feel this will entrench our judiciary in partisan politics.”

If Montanans want more transparency in judicial races, they should push for more candidate debates and for the media to be more diligent in covering these campaigns, she said.

“I believe this bill is trying to turn the judiciary into a Legislature,” Zupanic said.

In response to Balyeat’s comment about judicial activism, “that’s just code for a decision you don’t agree with,” Zupanic said.

The committee didn’t immediately vote on the bill.

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(15) Comments

  1. Purple
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    Purple - February 16, 2011 7:32 pm
    Helena Pedestrian said: "It seems the sponsors of this bill want to turn our judiciary into another partisan political circus.The judges are against this, the state bar is against this, the ACLU is against this. Who is for this? Who thinks this is a good idea? What constituency out there wants to force our judiciary to affiliate with political parties? Why are republicans pushing for so many radical changes in our state? There isn't Republican law and Democrat law. It's just the law. This proposal would change that. Who thinks that's a good idea? I don't get it."

    Liberals like you are constantly complaining about republican judicial activism yet you won't criticize liberal judicial activism because you don't want to see it happens.
  2. Curmudgeon
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    Curmudgeon - February 16, 2011 3:35 pm
    This bill, AND ITS BACKERS, are dee-yoo-em-em, DUMM (I think that's how it's spelled).

    LOL.
  3. jeanne
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    jeanne - February 16, 2011 1:01 pm
    I thought the Republicans ran on jobs and the Montana economy. With so many divisive bills, I guess they just don't have the time to actually do something that will help all Montanans.
  4. Westwind
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    Westwind - February 16, 2011 12:42 pm
    Keep the political parties out of the Judiciary. Yes, judicial candidates have political positions. That's part of being human, part of living in our great country. And the candidates should express their positions and beleifs.

    But the political parties should not be involved in judicial elections. Another bad idea brought to you by the busybody 2011 Legislature.
  5. jlarsen
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    jlarsen - February 16, 2011 12:38 pm
    Yorick said: "The esteemed representative seems to forget that the purpose of a campaign is to reveal the biases of the candidates. The letters next to a person's name have very little to do with their opinions."

    Yes, but wouldn't it be so much easier for candidates if they didn't have to campaign or debate, just get their name and (R or D) designator on the ballot and let party recognition do their campaigning for them? I mean, it really doesn't matter what opinions they have right, it's all about that letter behind their name, that says it all.
  6. jlarsen
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    jlarsen - February 16, 2011 12:34 pm
    jlarsen said: "Judging from the timestamps on other comments, I guess my early morning comment didn't make the cut for some reason."

    Nevermind, it seems my original comment managed to appear after all, and it cut back in line where it would have been.
  7. Helena Pedestrian
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    Helena Pedestrian - February 16, 2011 11:21 am
    It seems the sponsors of this bill want to turn our judiciary into another partisan political circus.

    The judges are against this, the state bar is against this, the ACLU is against this. Who is for this? Who thinks this is a good idea? What constituency out there wants to force our judiciary to affiliate with political parties? Why are republicans pushing for so many radical changes in our state? There isn't Republican law and Democrat law. It's just the law. This proposal would change that. Who thinks that's a good idea? I don't get it.
  8. Yorick
    Report Abuse
    Yorick - February 16, 2011 10:46 am
    The esteemed representative seems to forget that the purpose of a campaign is to reveal the biases of the candidates. The letters next to a person's name have very little to do with their opinions.
  9. jlarsen
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    jlarsen - February 16, 2011 10:05 am
    Judging from the timestamps on other comments, I guess my early morning comment didn't make the cut for some reason. I believed it to be well thought, and respectful enough with no crude language. I should have saved it, as it's kind of hard to remember the exact wording of what one spends a half hour typing.

    Maybe I've worn out my welcome with the IR. Oh well, maybe it is time to find a more comprehensive forum for my political comments. One with the ability to rate others' comments and reply to them hierarchically, and to send messages to other members directly. Unfortunately most online political forums are national in scope and lack the appeal of a local newspaper focusing on local issues.

    It's too bad the level of apathy regarding our representation in government is so high. I guess too many people took our personal freedoms for granted, and what we ended up with was a legislature that exists merely to push a partisan agenda.
  10. checolbar
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    checolbar - February 16, 2011 9:38 am
    This is long over-due!
    This will be very beneficial to voters in helping decide where candidates are coming from.
    Notice how the ultra-liberal ACLU want ''stealth candidates''? That speaks volumes!
  11. DonaldM
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    DonaldM - February 16, 2011 9:34 am
    I don't like the idea of a partisan Judiciary, but we have one anyway. There seems to be Democrat law and Republican law, so we just as well know up front which "law" the candidates stand for.
  12. enu_22
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    enu_22 - February 16, 2011 8:16 am
    Over the course of this legislative session, my casual observation has been this:
    The GOP representatives appear to lack the intelligence and common sense of normal people; I wonder how many dropped out of high school? Democrats this session are looking quite sagely by comparison. What happened to the GOP and how could we have voted these idiots into office?
  13. jlarsen
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    jlarsen - February 16, 2011 2:16 am
    You have got to be kidding me. Judicial elections are the one type of election where partisan recognition should NEVER enter into the equation. Allowing judicial candidates to wear their partisan label on their sleeve will only encourage voting for judicial candidates along party lines. It will discourage voters from getting to know how the candidates stand on issues, as most voters will just wait until they are in the voting booth and check (D) or (R) as they are accustomed to doing. Heck, if you a typical mindless partisan voter, you don't even need to know the name of your candidate to vote.

    NO! NO! NO! We will not allow it. We need to continue to bar judicial candidates from announcing their party labels.

    Another HORRIBLE idea from the republican party, and another waste of the legislative session. This is not what we elected these folks to spend their time on.

    Zupanic is right, we should push judicial candidates to attend debates to increase transparency. If Montana voters can't tell from how the candidates answer debate questions what their biases are, then they have no business being concerned with those biases.

    Allowing judicial candidates to advertise their party affiliation WILL NOT increase transparency, it will only increase partisanship.

    Look at what happened with the legislature since the last election. The republicans captured the majority in great part by their affiliation with the tea party movement, a partisan alignment. Now they vote for increased pay for themselves, more government interference in our lives, and any other whimsical item that helps them push their personal and religious agendas, but avoid the issues that drove voters to elect them in the first place.

    Who could have known, simply by (R) or tea party affiliation what biases the current legislature was going to bring to the table, until after the election. Where was the transparency in that?
  14. Purple
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    Purple - February 16, 2011 1:34 am
    Agree.

    No longer should judges be able to claim being nonpartisan while running for office, only to turn around and rule based upon their political agenda.
  15. roi_ratt
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    roi_ratt - February 16, 2011 12:23 am
    I don't like the idea of legislating this. I understand the idea behind it - but it will only serve to make our courts even more partisan than they already are.

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