ACLU of Indiana, Common Cause Win Challenge to Marion County's Judicial Election System

Affiliate: ACLU of Indiana
October 9, 2014 12:00 am

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INDIANAPOLIS –The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana today prevailed in a lawsuit challenging the state law that governs the process of electing judges in Marion County that created a vague system where each major party nominated half of the judicial candidates resulting in a general “election” where all those running will be victorious.

In his decision today, Chief Judge Richard Young of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana found Indiana Code § 33-33-49-13(b), the statute governing Marion County elections, unconstitutional, saying defendants–which include the Indiana Secretary of State, the Indiana Election Commission and the Governor of Indiana–could not justify taking away candidate choices from voters.

“The right to vote guaranteed to the citizenry by the Constitution is the right to a meaningful vote,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “We applaud Chief Judge Young’s decision today, which ensures citizens will have that right.”

The ACLU of Indiana filed the lawsuit on behalf of Common Cause Indiana in November, 2012.

The law effectively removed real choice from voters and rendered election of judges a mere formality. Under the law, each of the major political parties conducted a primary election at which each party selected exactly half of the seats to be filled in Marion Superior Court. Voters in Marion County who did not cast a ballot in the primary election had absolutely no say in electing judges the Court. Even people who did vote in the primary election had a say in only half of the judgeships.

The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that the right of suffrage is a fundamental matter in a free and democratic society, and that exercising voting rights in an unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights, such as those guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Chief Judge Young stayed his decision for 30 days, or until after a decision or appeal issues, meaning that the decision will not affect the November, 2014 election.

The ruling in Common Cause Indiana v. Indiana Secretary of State, et al. was entered in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division on October 9, 2014 under cause number 1:12-cv-01603-RLY-DML.

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