The U.S. Supreme Court struck a blow against nonpartisan judicial elections last week.
The High Court ruled against a Montana state ban on political parties making financial contributions to judicial candidates.
Unlike many states, Montana has a long tradition of nonpartisan judicial elections. Judges at the local and state level are elected without having a political party listed by their name.
In some states, the dominant political party in an area can nominate any old political hack, knowing that the party faithful will elect them.
Because of Montana’s rules, voters pick candidates without regard to their political backgrounds. This has resulted in a high quality of judges in the state.
We fear that the recent Supreme Court ruling will chip away at Montana’s rich tradition.
Last year, dark money was used to question the integrity of two Montana Supreme Court candidates. The two lost.
Then, the Sanders County Republican Party sued because it wants to make financial contributions to candidates for judges. Last week’s court ruling will enable the party to do so. And make no bones about it, Democrats will soon follow, pumping money into their candidates’ coffers.
The result will be nonpartisan elections for judges in name only. Party leaders will be able to recruit candidates, organize in their behalf and fund their campaigns. The only people who won’t know which is the Republican and which is the Democrat will be the voters.
The court ruling may have special impact in Havre. Voters here last year opted to have nonpartisan elections for local offices. There is no Republican or Democratic way to plow the streets, proponents of the plan argued.
While the Supreme Court ruling referred only to judicial elections, it’s easy to see that the court extending the expanding the design to include municipal elections.
What is nonpartisan about an election where one candidate is backed by Republicans and the second candidate is supported by Democrats?