Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Partisan Judicial Races Ahead? Constitutional Amendment Pending in General Assembly to Affect Judicial Runs

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Partisan Judicial Races Ahead? Constitutional Amendment Pending in General Assembly to Affect Judicial Runs

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIAN BASINGER

ATLANTA -- Gov. Sonny Perdue said Monday that he could see himself supporting a constitutional amendment to turn future Georgia judicial elections into partisan contests because of the increasingly political nature of such races.

"I don't support that at this time," Perdue, a Republican, said in an interview with the Times-Union. "But if we are not able to take partisanship out of races . . . I think we should open it up."

Judicial races are non-partisan affairs in Georgia, giving candidates the freedom to run for office without having to identify themselves as a Democrat, a Republican or member of any other party.

Still, politics -- and partisan money -- often find a way to enter into such races.

The governor said Monday he was particularly bothered by the partisan overtones in last year's election for a spot on the seven-member state Supreme Court.

Incumbent Leah Ward Sears -- the first African-American female justice on the court -- beat challenger Grant Brantley, a former Cobb County Superior Court judge.

Although the contest was officially non-partisan, Sears was heavily funded by some of the state's top Democrats, and Brantley was backed by many in the GOP's leadership, including a former Perdue staff member. Sears will become the court's chief justice this summer after the retirement of Justice Norman Fletcher.

Rep. Bill Hembree, R-Douglasville, introduced a constitutional amendment earlier this year that would require partisan judicial elections for positions on the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, as well as all state courts and superior courts.

Perdue said for now he is holding off on throwing his weight behind that resolution, saying he hopes the 2004 battle between Sears and Brantley will promote less partisan races in the future.

"If the judiciary wants to keep their races as non-partisan, I think their candidates ought to act in a non-partisan fashion," Perdue said. …

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