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Committee expresses concern about partisanship in ‘constitutionally nonpartisan’ Supreme Court race

The Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee, which in August warned about partisanship in nonpartisan judicial elections, is freshly concerned because a candidate for a state Supreme Court seat has scheduled a day-long tour with the congressman whose district includes the entire Supreme Court district.

State Rep. Joseph Fischer has announced that he and U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie will make four stops in the 6th Supreme Court district Thursday, Nov. 3.

All but three of the counties that are entirely in Massie’s district are also in the district in which Fischer is running.

That district comprises Boone, Bracken, Campbell, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton, Oldham, Owen, Pendleton, Shelby and Trimble counties.

Fischer’s announcement includes his campaign logo that identifies him as “the conservative Republican.” That identification was one of the reasons that the Committee issued a statement Aug. 10 saying that while judicial candidates have the First Amendment right to publicize their political affiliations and their records in public service, Fischer was placing too much emphasis on his partisan affiliation.

Now he is doubling down on that, publicizing an upcoming tour of the district with the Republican who has represented the area in Congress for nearly 10 years.

The committee has expressed the belief that this further undermines the independence and integrity of the judiciary, which are essential elements of the American system of government.

Unfortunately, many voters do not realize that Kentucky’s judicial elections are nonpartisan, the committee said. “When judicial campaigning becomes partisan, it can mislead voters into thinking they are voting in a partisan election. The objective of a nonpartisan election is to separate the judiciary from political entanglements.”

The Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that was created to safeguard the integrity of the judiciary in Kentucky judicial elections. It was formed partly in response to court decisions that expanded the free-speech rights of judicial candidates, and the prospect of campaigns that would make nonpartisan judicial elections more like those for executive and legislative offices, which are mostly partisan.

The committee has focused its public statements on campaigns that used false or misleading information to persuade voters and believes its work has discouraged such campaigning. “Now it voices concern about partisanship, out of fear that this trend will undermine the independence of the judiciary, and thus undermine its integrity. Citizens should be able to expect their disputes that end up in court will be decided by an impartial tribunal that is not influenced by political affiliations.”

One of the committee’s members, retired Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham, warned voters this summer that partisan campaigning for judicial seats “should put the voter on notice that there is a political group of people who have an interest in having one of their own as your judge.”

The committee says believes that “when judicial candidates emphasize their affiliation with a political party, they erode long-held American principles of judicial independence and fairness. Politics is a necessary aspect of our system of government, but there’s a reason judicial elections are nonpartisan. Justice shouldn’t be political.”

Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee

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