Indiana Black Legislative Caucus Opposes 'Disenfranchising' Judge Appointment Bill

Feb 23, 2016

Credit Indiana Black Legislative Caucus / http://indianahousedemocrats.org/iblc

Indianapolis' seven African-American legislators are pushing back against a bill to appoint Marion County judges instead of electing them.

The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus charges the proposal would disenfranchise African-American voters and give minorities less representation on the bench.

Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) charges the 14-member commission, with eight partisan appointees and six representatives of bar associations and the judiciary, would be, in her words, "stacked" against minority candidates.

She also questions why it’s only Marion County that stands to lose the right to vote for its judges.

“Right next door, we have Hamilton County,” Breaux says. “This is not being proposed for Hamilton County and the only rationale I can come for that is that Hamilton County is predominantly Republican and it’s predominantly white.”

And Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) says the change would mean fewer African-American judges and deprive residents of the right to vote.

“That commission would be judicial slavery for us, pushing us back,” Porter says. “We talk about bringing in new people all the time to Marion County, then all of a sudden those individuals that you want to bring into the community, now they’re disenfranchised.”

Marion County would be the fourth county to appoint its judges, with voters casting only a yes-or-no vote on giving judges another term.

But Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) says Lake County's commission has set rules ensuring diversity. He says legislators can't constitutionally impose that requirement themselves.

And he criticizes a provision in the bill which would force even incumbent judges to appear before the commission, which would issue public recommendations on whether they should keep their jobs.

Legislators have to come up with some new way to pick judges after a federal appeals court ruled the current system of guaranteeing each party half the seats unconstitutional.

Rep. Vanessa Summers (D-Indianapolis) says the only fair solution is to put judges on a partisan ballot like everyone else.