Should Supreme Court Justices officiate at political party events?

It must be “law & order” week here at Peach Pundit because we’re seeing an abundance of front page posts debating judges, the courts, the court’s rulings, and the law. Today I’m going to contribute to the law conversation by asking this question…

…Should Supreme Court Justices (or any judge for that matter) officiate at political party events?

In today’s Newton (County) Citizen, it’s reported that state Sen. John Douglas (R-Social Circle) sent a letter to state Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham “urging him not to officiate at the swearing-in ceremony for new executive officers with the Rockdale County Democratic Party.”

Supreme Court justices run in nonpartisan elections, and according to Douglas, Benham’s participation in the Democratic Party event is inappropriate.

“I think this is not the type of situation a Supreme Court justice should put himself into,” Douglas said. “It’s purely partisan. The Democratic Party, just like the Republican Party, has the goal of electing Democrats or Republicans to office. Having a judge or justice swear in an office holder who has received a majority of votes from the county or city is a completely different situation, I would think.”

Read the 11/2/2007 Newton Citizen article “Senator wants justice to stay away from ceremony”

The incoming chair of the Rockdale County Democratic Party, Ruth Wilson, has said that she disagrees with Sen. Douglas and noted that Justice Benham’s presence at the ceremony wouldn’t be the first time “a member of the judiciary has conducted a swearing-in ceremony in Rockdale County.”

Here’s what I think…I think that having a Justice of the Georgia state Supreme Court swear in a chair of a local political committee is a bit much. I mean these county chairs don’t get paid anything and their power is essentially limited to appointing poll watchers & members of their county’s board of elections. To my knowledge, DPG Chair Jane Kidd and GAGOP Chair Sue Everhart were never “sworn-in”. They were elected and that was that. Shoot, DNC Chair Howard Dean was never “sworn-in”. I mean who really needs a swearing-in ceremony, especially one that involves a member of the judiciary, for a local Democratic or Republican committee.

What do you think?


  1. StevePerkins says:

    I don’t know all the rules specific to Georgia, but the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct has provisions which could be reasonably construed as barring judges from serving as officers in political parties, “using the prestige of judicial office” for fund-raising or membership solicitation, etc. However, a judge subject to public election (as opposed to an appointed judge) is free to identify themselves as members of a political party, and attend political gatherings.

    In short, it doesn’t seem that Justice Benham is doing anything unethical or inappropriate here. That said, I do have general concerns about judicial politics (I’m not sure that any judge should be an elected official… and if we MUST have an elected judiciary, I wish the races were more truly non-partisan). However, after the attempted hatchet-job in the past state Supreme Court election, I’m not sure the GOP has any moral high ground to speak from here.

  2. Adrian Doyle says:

    This is foolish. Sen. Douglas would not be upset if Justice Melton were officiating the swearing-in of a GOP official in Rockdale County.

    Do we distrust our state Supreme Court to the extent that attending a Democratic Party event in Rockdale County would hamper Justice Benham’s ability to rule fairly? This seems like a really silly thing to lose one’s head over.

    Or is this really pent-up frustration about Genarlow Wilson?

  3. After the whole Doraville thing pretty much resolved itself, Douglas is desperately trying to keep his name in the news. Afterall, Jim Marshall needs a high profile 2010 opponent.

  4. atlantaman says:

    The only hatchet job I saw during the Supreme Court election was Hunstein’s personal attack ad against Wiggins and his dying mother. To try and insinuate the Republicans made the races partisan is ridiculous.

    The Dems are just upset because their self-righteous monopoly on judges has come to an end.

  5. Romegaguy says:

    So when Justice Benham was at meeting of the Georgia Republican Federation this summer, was that ok? Someone should call Sen. Douglas on his cellphone and ask him. Hopefully he wont get stopped for talking on it again…

  6. SpaceyG says:

    Judges should keep their noses to the legal grindstone and their butts on the bench, not at wild parties like a swearing-in ceremony. Parties should be presided over by bloggers only. In the case of Broun, he obviously couldn’t muster up enough bloggers to swear him in. Some network he has.

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