On September 6, U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Young, a Clinton appointee, cleared away all procedural hurdles in the lawsuit Common Cause Indiana v Indiana Secretary of State, 1:12cv-1603. The lawsuit challenges the system for electing trial court judges in Indianapolis. Indiana judicial elections at this level are partisan elections. The law does not permit any party to nominate candidates for more than half of the available seats.
The lawsuit argues that this system doesn’t give voters any realistic choice in the general election, because invariably the only parties that run candidates for trial court judge are the Democratic and Republican Parties. In 2012, when twenty seats were up, there were ten Democratic nominees on the ballot and ten Republican nominees on the ballot. So, realistically, there was no role for the voters to play; the outcome was automatic.
Other jurisdictions that don’t permit parties to run nominees for all the available seats are Washington, D.C., several cities in Connecticut, and Philadelphia.
The lawsuit was filed last year. The state argued that the plaintiffs lack standing, and made other procedural objections, but Judge Young ruled that the lawsuit may proceed to the merits. One of the reasons that Common Cause filed the lawsuit is that, apparently, candidates for judge are expected to contribute large sums of money to the major parties, as an incentive for the major parties to nominate them. See this story.
Because the Libertarian Party has been ballot-qualified for all partisan office in Indiana since 1994, one wonders why the Libertarian Party never runs nominees for trial court judge in Indianapolis. In 2012, if the party had exercised its right to nominate, there would have been ten Libertarians, ten Democrats, and ten Republicans running, with the top twenty being elected. Thanks to Rick Hasen for the news about this lawsuit.