Nonpartisan judges. That's what we'll have in West Virginia from now on – theoretically, at least.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has signed House Bill 2010, mandating that the election of our supreme court, circuit court, and family court judges and magistrates be nonpartisan.
Starting with the 2016 judicial elections, there will be no party primaries for judges, all candidates for judgeships will appear on the spring ballot without party affiliation, and winners will be determined at that time.
The change is intended to reduce the influence of money in the election of judges and lessen the appearance – and reality – of partisanship. Only time will tell whether or not such goals can be accomplished.
We agree that judges should be nonpartisan: that they should apply the laws fairly, interpret them according to the original intent of the authors, refrain from legislating from the bench, and resist the temptation to promote hidden agendas or special interests.
We understand, however, that judges are human like us and struggle with being biased, self-serving, even petty. It behooves us, then, to do what we can to encourage them to follow their higher natures. That, ostensibly, is an important goal of this change in the electoral process.
The special interests, of course, did not see any need for reform. They thought things were fine just the way they were. The change notwithstanding, they'll look for ways to identify, support, and influence judicial candidates agreeable to them.
Meanwhile, the rest of us will have to work harder to learn who's who without those handy Rs and Ds behind the names. We may not be able to tell the players without a program.
When candidates for judicial posts are relatively obscure and we haven't much else to go on, party affiliations can provide considerable insight into their likely approach to various issues.
Still, it's best that we expect judges to be nonpartisan – and encourage them to live up to our expectations.