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MONDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Nonpartisan judge elections shouldn’t be partisan issue

Alabama Democrats and Republicans are making a partisan issue out of whether to elect nonpartisan judges.

Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, is sponsoring legislation that would take the party labels out of elections of judges for district, circuit and appeals courts. Mr. McLaughlin said the bill would reduce the cost of judicial elections, which he called "an embarrassment." Judges "are not there to advance the agenda of either political party," he said, according to The Associated Press.

Consider this fact: Republicans currently hold 18 of the 19 appellate court seats in Alabama, which were all held by Democrats only a few years ago. Now guess which party wants to retain partisan elections.

That's right: When the House Constitution and Elections Committee approved the bill 7-6, all Democrats but one voted yes and all Republicans voted no.

House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, seems to be admitting that it's more a matter of who's right than what's right when he observes, "At one time Democrats held a majority of judge seats and we said we didn't want to do that. Now the Republicans don't want to do it." He thinks the bill won't pass.

Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said, "I want people to know if a judge candidate is in the conservative party or not in the conservative party."

Actually, the party label on a judge means nothing if he or she is an impartial judge, as he's supposed to be. Judges have no reason to work together as party members the way legislators do, nor should they.

Most every candidate running for office in Alabama will label himself a conservative, and neither Democrats nor Republicans have any process for screening out the fake conservatives. Voters should evaluate judge candidates on their personal and professional qualities, knowledge of the law, judicial temperament, decency and intelligence. Party labels do nothing to enlighten voters on these points.

By cutting out some of the steps necessary to get elected, nonpartisan elections probably would reduce the cost of running, Mr. McLaughlin's laudable goal. They would be a step in the right direction while another option — appointing judges — gets the careful study it deserves.

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