Rep. Lindsey Responds

Representative Lindsey has responded to my less than mature criticisms. He writes:

Despite the ugly tone invoked in last year’s state Supreme Court race, Georgia is right to require that our judges stand for popular election. The conduct of judicial campaigns over the past two years, however, highlights the need for reform of the judicial election process.

Every poll taken on the subject indicates overwhelming support for popularly electing judges’and the people are right. Our society depends on a judiciary independent from control from either the executive or legislative branches. In order to maintain that independence, the judiciary must derive its authority directly from the people and there is no better way to do that than through the ballot box.

The conduct of the campaigns in the last two election cycles, however, cannot help but raise alarms and demands for changes. We’ve seen tens of thousands’and even millions’of dollars (sometimes anonymously)from one interest group or the other flood money into judicial campaigns. Both major political parties have also weighed into these nonpartisan races.

As a result, the impartiality and fairness of our court system is now at risk. That is why we need to seek changes in the upcoming General Assembly session.


Recusal, Party involvement, and Independent Committees (HB 97)

Last year, Presiding Justice Carol W. Hunstein expressed concern over the money spent by financial, insurance, and medical groups to support her opponent. J. Michael Wiggins replied, bashing trial lawyers who donated heavily to Hunstein and then appeared before her court. This is one of those rare times when both sides in a campaign have a point.

While both candidates proclaimed their independence from those who supported them, at the very least receiving large financial support creates the appearance of partiality. In every court case, it is vital for the parties to believe that they will receive a fair shake from the judge. The conduct of supporters for Hunstein and Wiggins jeopardizes that faith.

Therefore, we should require in any case in which either a party or a lawyer has contributed, either directly or indirectly, more than $500 to the judge’s election, that the judge recuse him or herself from the case.

Furthermore, I ran for the State House as a member of the GOP because my elected position makes public policy. Therefore, my Republican partisanship and ideology are an integral part of my job. However, the role of a judge is very different. A judge’s job is to apply the policy created by the legislative and executive branches to the cases before them’even when they personally disagree with that policy as long as it is constitutional. That is why the Georgia Constitution requires judicial elections to be nonpartisan. We don’t need Republican or Democratic judges who apply their ideology to cases. We need impartial judges who can set aside their personal beliefs and apply the law.

Two years ago, however, the nonpartisanship of judicial races began to erode. Some Republicans backed G. Grant Brantley’s Supreme Court challenge and the Democratic Party weighed in financially on behalf of now-Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears. The Democrats argued that they did so because so many Republicans were supporting Brantley. Last year, my own Republican Party waged an open mail and television ad campaign for Wiggins. Recently, a Republican leader defended this action by saying that what they had done was only fair given what the Democrats did in 2004. As a parent, I’ve heard this kind of circular argument before from my teenage boys when they are fighting. It isn’t a winning argument in my household and it’s not one in this debate.

Furthermore, not only is partisanship in general dangerous to our judiciary, but how the parties are now deciding whom to back is profoundly undemocratic. These judicial candidates are not being selected by the voters in primaries but are being anointed by a select few in the hierarchies of the parties. Therefore, this trend is not only corrosive to the judiciary but to the political parties themselves.

Therefore, we need to remove the political parties from these races and restore the nonpartisan component of judicial elections.

Finally, the involvement of independent committees and 527s in backing and attacking one candidate or another is eroding the effectiveness of campaign finance laws but allowing supporters of candidates to come in through the back door with unlimited funds in campaigns. Therefore, we need to require that these groups operate under the same contribution restraints as campaign committees do when they move beyond issue advocacy and actively support a candidate.

Public funding of judicial races (HB 102)

I’m not a particularly great fan of public funding of elections in general either but given the special circumstances surrounding judicial elections, I must concede that public funding is necessary to protect the peculiar role of judges in our society.

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee summed up very succinctly the difference between judges and other public servants when he said, ‘Judges are not politicians. They cannot promise to do certain things for votes.’ The same goes for raising money to conduct a modern political campaign.

North Carolina recently initiated a public funding program for statewide judicial elections and we need to look at its success and consider the same for Georgia. Such a system requires candidates to show broad-based support through smaller donations before receiving public funding. (We should even consider requiring a certain amount of support from nonlawyers.) The system is voluntary. Candidates are not required to participate and the funds used are raised through donations and a voluntary check-off system on taxes.

In conclusion, the present system is broken. If not my suggestions, given me a better idea. I’m listening.

14 comments

  1. griftdrift says:

    “In order to maintain that independence, the judiciary must derive its authority directly from the people and there is no better way to do that than through the ballot box.”

    “If not my suggestions, given me a better idea. I’m listening. ”

    I’ve got a better idea. Non-elected judiciary. And the best part of it all? No tax money wasted on campaign financing! No political parties pouring millions into supposedly non-partisan races!

    Worked for the founders. Why can’t it work for Georgia, Rep. Lindsey?

  2. bowersville says:

    “…give me a better idea, I’m listening.” Simple, Executive appointment, Senate confirmation. It works for the United States, why will it not work for Georgia. “..derive its authority directly from the people…through the ballot box.” In other words, if the “people” don’t like the rulings, vote them out. Sounds like “mob rule” instead of the “rule of law” to me. If we are to have so much faith in our elected Governor and Senate, especially in the area of ethics, why can’t we trust them to nominate and confirm life time appointments to the Georgia Judiciary?

  3. Gag Halfrunt says:

    Seems to me that if you open the public treasury to fund judicial races then you are only fueling the fire. The result would be more extreme.

    Take another hit of whatever it is you’re using, Ed, and read Federalist #47 and, especially, #51.

  4. ColinATL says:

    All judges should be like federal judges and either appointed or elected for LIFE. The judiciary should be able to make decisions independent of subsequent appointments & elections. It’s the only way to enable a truly independent judiciary.

  5. Rep. Ed Lindsey says:

    Now that we have moved beyond the question of the number of trips I have made to unlicensed pharmaceutical distributors, I appreciate the comments on my bills and let me respond to some of the points made:

    1. Jason Pye is concerned about the slippery slope scenerio and his concerns are well taken. My only response is that I view judicial elections differently from other races for the reasons expressed by Justice Roberts in my previous remarks. Judges simply aren’t like other politicians and one size in elections does not fit all. My pledge to all of you is that I will oppose any such encroachments into other elections involving the selection of policy makes such as myself. Jason also expresses concern over his wallet and I could not agree more. That is why I have insisted that this alternativc must be purely voluntary both in terms of candidate participation and contributions into the fund. All we are offering here is a second voluntary option for running a campaign. Isn’t creating options what being in the GOP all about?

    2. Several of you have expressed a desire to go to the federal model of lifetime appointments. I gave serious thought to this but rejected this course for several reasons ranging from philosophical to practical politics. They incude: 1. I have a lot more faith in the general public that the Federalists did in the 18th century; 2. the appointment process is still political and can lead to greater dependence from the judiciary on the executive and legislative branches because of the judges dependence on these branches for selection; and 3. such a change will require a constitutional amendment with approval from voters and that will never happen — voters have never disenfrachised themselves from the right to vote for a judge.

    No one in this blog has commented on HB 97. What do you think of that proposal? Do you have any other ideas?

    I sincerely appreciate your comments — other than the smoking crack jab. (I have teenagers who surf the net and don’t need my boys getting any additional ammo to use against their old man.)

    It appears many of you agree the status quo is unacceptable and changes need to be made. That is why part three of my proposals call for a study on this issue for the coming year before we push forward with substantive proposals.

  6. Jason Pye says:

    Thank you, Rep. Lindsey…however, you may view things one way, but you know there are others that want publicly funded elections and they may use the very same points you are using.

  7. Rep. Ed Lindsey says:

    Jason, I understand. There will always be folks who will try to take a mile when you give them an inch.

    That is why the word “no” is in the dictionary.

  8. Rick Day says:

    Rep Lindsey,

    Although I play the Independent gadfly in this play of huff-n-puff idealogues, I am impressed with your response, (for what it is worth).

    You do sound a true alarm about this back-door-side-door-tit-for-tat control of duopolist idealogy. Like some twisted chess game. Move. Counter-move.

    It is the same spend orgy that drives the top dollar fights for school district and school book review boards. It is about control.

    If you, sir, take a few steps back, and look at the whole rotting forest; it is not only the judges’ races at stake. It is just more blatant now than it was when it started in 1889. Government has openly become ‘victory goes to the high bidder’. Money – It is the root of all evil, no?

    Now I do agree with some of the other posts’ solutions (although appointments worry me unless done in a totally transparant non-partisan way. HAH!),

    I can only at best, suggest some lame simplistic revolutionary solution like a $50 limit per person OR company campaign donation cap, or some silliness the media or big business masters could never support. I just like to think in big simplistic solutions that wipe out several problems at once.

    But thank you for your time and attempts to address the major disfunctional mode of our political machine. If you can figure out a way so it does not cost me Almighty Dollar ™, I’m with you.

    That is what Republicans do.

    Right?

  9. bowersville says:

    Today, Chief Justice Sears addressed the GA. Judge Sears addressing this bill before the Assembly stated “I don’t think we are ready to cobble together a proposal.” She urged a study committee be formed to review the proposals before taking action. With something as important as protecting the integrity of the equal branches of government, the study committee is a good idea. Surely if we need a study committee on Sunday sales of beer, this justifies a study so that we proceed with caution so that we can insure that we protect the integrity of the Court.

    http://www.accessnorthgeorgia.com
    “States top Judge addresses…”
    http://www.gasupreme.com

  10. Rep. Ed Lindsey says:

    HR 47, which we also dropped this week, does precisely what Justice Sears recommended. We anticipate looking at not only at the issues raised in our bills but other recommended reform suggestions we expect to be advanced. Participating in the study committee will be an advisory group consisting of not only lawyers and judges but also leaders from the Chamber 0f Commerce, the medical and insurance community, and private citizens selected by the Governor.

    It is my hope that an open dialogue can be created on this issue. I do not presume that my suggestions are the only answers but they are as good as any to provide a starting point for discussion.

    In addition to posting on this blog, I welcome your thoughts via e mail at [email protected].

    I look forward to hearing from you on this important issue.

Comments are closed.