Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Chief Justice Shepard Concerned About Bopp's Politicization Of Courts

Chief Justice Randall Shepard expressed "grave concern" at a recent meeting of the Conference of Chief Justices over the growing partisan nature of judicial elections according to a Legal Times article. While Shepard never mentioned Terre Haute lawyer Jim Bopp by name, there was no mistaking the source of his concerns. The Legal Times quotes Shepard on the subject:

"It's the money, it's the judicial questionnaires, it's a whole constellation of things happening now that don't advance the public's confidence in the courts," says Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard, outgoing chairman of the conference, who hosted the chief justices' meeting in Indianapolis. "We need to get information to bar associations and judges groups about what to do when the fire alarm goes off, or before the alarm goes off, in an election."

The Legal Times cites a case Jim Bopp successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court as the source of Shepard's concerns:

Though concern has been building for years about the increase in campaign spending and partisanship in what used to be sedate judicial campaigns, the main impetus for the latest effort by the chief justices is the fallout from a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Republican Party of Minnesota v. White.

That ruling struck down, on First Amendment grounds, a Minnesota canon of judicial ethics that barred candidates from announcing their views on disputed legal or political issues.

Several lower federal courts have responded to the decision by striking down other state canons and rules aimed at keeping judicial candidates from making campaign promises and partisan statements that may compromise the substance and appearance of impartiality once they are elected . . .

The White decision's main effect has been to encourage interest groups to ply judicial candidates with questionnaires demanding that they take positions on controversial issues, says Georgetown University Law Center professor Roy Schotland, who studies judicial elections and worked with the chief justices on the issue. "The situation is bad, getting worse, with federal judges leading the way downhill."

Bopp is currently pursuing a federal court case in the Northern District of Indiana to strike down Indiana's judicial canons restricting judicial candidates from pledging or promising, or committing themselves to certain positions, which is of no doubt great concern to Shepard. Bopp is particuarly perturbed that most judicial candidates in Indiana have declined to respond to judicial questionnaires from his favorite wing-nut organization, Right to Life, based on advice they received from the Indiana Judicial Qualifications and Disciplinary Commission. Bopp, who represents various Christian right organizations, wants judicial candidates to announce in advance their positions on such hot-button issues as abortion and gay marriage.

Hat tip to Indiana Law Blog for noticing the Legal Times article.

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