Common Causes' lawsuit maintained that the statute in question denies Marion County voters their First Amendment right to cast a meaningful vote in the superior court judicial races. The First Amendment's reach to actions of the state which impede voters' First Amendment rights is applied by incorporation through the Fourteenth Amendment. Judge Young concluded that the state failed to advance a compelling state interest in defending Marion County's unique judicial election process, which he found severely burden the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Marion County voters. His conclusion were based on his findings that: voters were denied to meaningfully vote for a full slate of candidates from each respective political party; the challenged statute severely burdens voters' right to vote; and the state failed to "identify and evaluate the precise interests put forward by the State as justifications for the burden put forward by its rule." In a footnote, Judge Young cited in support of his contention that the state law allowed Marion Co. no real choices a blog post on the Indiana Law Blog commenting on new court assignments for judges to be elected at the general election before the election had even transpired.
The state argued that a full slate of judicial candidates would lead to a "free-for-all" election that would lead to "intensely partisan and expensive campaigning." Judge Young noted that the state wasn't even required to rely upon an electoral process as a means for choosing judges, noting that the state has adopted merit selection processes through a judicial nominating commission in both Lake and St. Joseph Counties for choosing judges. Judge Young observed that under the Marion County statute the judges were chosen through a very partisan primary election process, which is actually even more unseemly than he describes in his opinion given the fact that judicial candidates are required to pay very large slating fees to their respective political parties for the right to be endorsed by the party in the primary election. Judge Young countered the state's argument, noting that the case could be made that by imposing the judicial cap on judges chosen in the primary election the process was made even more partisan.
Judge Young's opinion permanently enjoins the state from enforcing the Marion County judicial election statute (I.C. 33-33-49-13(b)); however, he stayed his order for 30 days to provide the state an opportunity to appeal his decision. If a notice of appeal is filed by the state, then his order will be stayed until a final determination is made by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. You can access Judge Young's opinion at the Indiana Law Blog by clicking here.
UPDATE: The Indianapolis Bar Association released the following statement in response to Judge Young's decision today:
The Indianapolis Bar Association (“IndyBar”) is reviewing Judge Young’s decision holding unconstitutional Marion County’s current system for selecting judges. For more than twenty years, the IndyBar has taken an active interest in the best methods of selecting judges in Marion County. Through its Attorneys for an Independent Bench (AIB) Committee, the IndyBar intends to offer its assistance in crafting a remedy to address the Judge’s decision. Marion County has been well served by its excellent judges over the years, and inclusive engagement of all interested parties in creating a new judicial selection method will ensure that continues.