Out of the closet in judicial elections
Oct. 23, 2002
A federal judge ruled this week that the Mississippi Republican Party has a right to openly endorse and give money to support the campaigns of judicial candidates.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate said the state cannot lawfully force political parties to remain silent in judicial races. Several federal courts have previously held similar prohibitions to the ones at issue to be unconstitutional restrictions on political speech,'' Wingate wrote
This ruling should be embraced, not criticized, because it offers another point of reference for voters and will tend to open up the process of electing judges. It is important that voters have as much information about candidates as is humanly available before they actually cast ballots in any election. By definition, all elections are political and the state should not create artificial information barriers based on party affiliation.
People running for judgeships are political candidates. They may see themselves running under a nonpartisan banner but, for better or worse, they are subject to same sorts of political machinations that can influence any campaign in which voters ultimately determine the outcome.
Candidates are always free to refuse the financial contributions from a political party, or, for that matter, from any other contributor.
All too often, an unseen undercurrent sweeps voters toward or away from a particular candidate in judgeship races as in "he's for the trial lawyers" or "he's against the trial lawyers." Word distributed via the grapevine is not the best standard against which to measure a candidate.
As long as judges are elected in this state, politics and financial contributions from like-minded political entities should be played in the open, on a level field.