Divergent Proposals on Partisanship in Court Elections

A bill in Missouri would remove partisanship from most judicial races, while a sharply divergent proposal in North Carolina would restore partisan labels for candidates seeking a seat on the bench.

In Missouri, legislation would strip party identification from candidates for judgeships in parts of the state not covered by the Missouri Plan, a nationally recognized merit-based system for selecting judges.

Under the Missouri Plan, a nominating commission currently submits a slate of three candidates to the Missouri governor, who chooses from that list. The  merit system is used for selecting appellate court judges and trial court judges in urban counties. The judges may be retained or removed by voters later.

Republican State Sen. Kevin Engler said about his bill, according to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, “When they are elected, we expect them to be nonpartisan.” He asked, why shouldn’t candidates run for office that way, too?

In North Carolina, a bill would require party labels for candidates for District Court, Superior Court, Appellate Court, and the state Supreme Court starting in 2012. For races that have been nonpartisan since 2002, it would add an element of party politics, reported the Carolina Journal.

Republican State Sen. Jerry Tillman, the chief sponsor, explained, “People still believe that partisan labels mean something.” He added, “This gives voters a little something to go off. Does it tell them everything? No. But it tells them more than they know now.”

The issue of whether to have partisan labels for judicial candidates seemed to be getting attention this week; a day ago, Gavel Grab mentioned a proposed referendum in Montana that would require candidates for district court judgeships and the state Supreme Court to run with partisan labels.

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