An editorial from The Herald-Dispatch
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — This spring, West Virginia is making a historic change in the way it selects its judges.
Since the state’s creation in 1863, judges – from magistrates to the Supreme Court – have been chosen in partisan elections. In other words, candidates identified themselves as Democrats, Republicans or other parties, and ran first in the spring party primaries and then in the November General Election.
From the start, that system meant that judicial candidates were vulnerable to the pressures of party politics, and no doubt, the party’s agenda sometimes influenced rulings in the courtroom. For those reasons, most states gradually moved away from partisan elections for judges, using a range of other methods from merit selection and gubernatorial appointments to non-partisan and retention elections.
West Virginia entered the new millennium as one of only a handful of states that still elected judges as part of the hurly-burly of party politics. Concerns grew as spending on the races began to grow, but all of the weaknesses of the West Virginia system were laid out in full view in 2004…