Effort to remove politics from state’s judicial races has not worked very well

Published 11:43 am Saturday, October 13, 2012

In an effort to remove politics from Mississippi’s judiciary, the Legislature several years ago decided that judicial candidates could not run with party labels.

The reform hasn’t worked.

Judicial elections are nonpartisan in name only, except perhaps, at the local level. It doesn’t take much study to figure out in whose political camp a judicial candidate resides.

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Only the labels changed. Instead of Republican vs. Democrat, it became pro-business vs. pro-trial lawyer. The candidates’ campaign finance reports reflect these sympathies.

This was illustrated in McComb recently when John Baas, a lobbyist for the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, openly endorsed three candidates in the state Supreme Court races during a speech to the Rotary Club. Although Baas said his organization is non-partisan, he admitted that “more and more of our friends in the Legislature are Republican.”

He could have added that the three candidates his organization supports — Mike Randolph in South Mississippi, Bill Waller Jr. in Central Mississippi and Josiah Coleman in North Mississippi — also are favored by the Republican Party.

The state political parties have further exposed the nonpartisan pretense by endorsing judicial candidates, particularly for seats on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. In one of the more hotly contested races this year, the Republican Party has endorsed Waller, the current chief justice. The Democrats have endorsed his challenger, state Rep. Earle Banks.

As long as judges are elected, the campaigns will be partisan and political. The only way to minimize the politics is to appoint the judges, and even that won’t completely remove politics from the equation. But it would help.

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