Electing good judges in West Virginia

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — Funny thing about that old business of the shoe being on the other foot. Sometimes the fit is very good.

Among long-overdue changes West Virginia legislators approved this year was one involving elections for magistrates, circuit court judges and state Supreme Court justices. Beginning next year, candidates whose names are on the ballot will not be identified by political party affiliation.

There will be no more candidates who win because they are Democrats running in an area where many voters judge those seeking office primarily by party label. The same holds true for Republicans.

For many years, party affiliation on the ballot was an advantage for Democrats in statewide elections. Their party held a massive advantage in voter registrations.

And for years, because Democrats controlled the state Legislature, calls by Republicans for nonpartisan judicial elections were ignored.

But last fall, voters throughout the state rejected Democrat candidates in favor of Republicans. It appears, at least for awhile, that listing the GOP affiliation may be an advantage for many candidates. The shoe is on the other foot.

So why did this year’s Legislature, with both houses dominated by Republicans, go ahead with nonpartisan judicial elections that may be disadvantageous to candidates from their party?

Because it was the right thing to do for West Virginians. Unlike candidates for other offices, those in judicial races should not be known for fidelity to any ideology – except the law and the state constitution.

West Virginians want judges who will be knowledgeable about the law and impartial in their rulings. Period. The new system is more likely to put such people on the bench, and legislators were right to make the change.

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