On March 25th, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill to eliminate party identification in West Virginia’s judicial elections, prompting a mixed reaction from activists around the state.
West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts said the only downside is that the bill took so long to pass – nearly two decades of Chamber advocacy work, according to the Charleston Daily Mail. Roberts went on to argue that nonpartisan judicial elections are especially important in West Virginia. “We have limited appellate review,” he explained, “and that means there is less discussion about cases, fewer eyes on individual cases and that makes it all the more important that the courts get it right every time, every place, which of course is a virtual impossibility.”
Anthony Majestro, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice disagrees, suggesting that removing party identification also removes valuable voter information. Moreover, the legislation does not address campaign spending, a growing concern across the nation. Majestro explained that similar changes have led to increased independent expenditures in other states, “with special interests hiding behind misleading names and refusing to disclose who has funded the effort.” An amendment to address this problem by expanding the state’s public financing program was not given much consideration.
The article explains that this bill is “part of a larger reform package” aimed at improving the judicial and business environments in the state. In the meantime, Roberts insists that “getting the politics out of the courts is a very important step on the way to ensuring a better legal climate in West Virginia and fairer trials for everybody.”