Usually when we think about the elections in America, our highest focus goes to an executive office -- the POTUS, then probably to US Senators, then governors, and maybe US Representatives (though at that level the concern is typically focused on which party of our present two-party duopoly will have the most seats, and very little on the fortunes of any especial individual candidates). Rarely given consideration is the presence of elected judges. This is quite possibly in part because unlike elected chief executives and legislators, elected judges are by no means a universal phenomenon. They are completely absent for example in the national government, where executive appointment and legislative approval are part of the delicate distribution of checks and balances set forth by our founders. And, judges tend to have no immediate power to do anything, unable to act proactively like the other branches, they must sit and wait for just the right cases to come before them through which they can effect their governing principles.

Indeed, there is much praise to be given for an establishment wherein judges are selected in practice by legal experts on the basis of their acumen, without thought needing to be given to 'electability' concerns. And there is certainly something distasteful about the idea of supposedly neutral arbiters of the meaning of the law being put upon to raise funds for election campaigns, and stumping for votes. Even more distressing is the notion that monied interests will be able to put forth judicial candidates who are likely to rule in favor of the donors' interests when and if those cases come up. But, still, judicial elections do exist, so here are a handful of note going on in the states which happen to be 'swings state|swing states]' in this year's presidential contest.

In first-in-the-nation Iowa, voters are asked not to pick between competitors, but to retain or not retain sitting judges of the state's seven-member supreme court. You may recall that a few years ago, Iowa's supreme court issued a unanimous decision -- Republicans and Democrats hand in hand, as it were -- holding gay marriage to be a right guaranteed by the Iowa constitution. Since then, the forces of fundamentalism have sought to punish those judges by rallying against their retention. Three were unseated in the last election, and one more is under siege this time around, David Wiggins. The effect of all these efforts may be questionable. Though the three previously unseated judges were replaced by appointees of popular Republican governor Terry Branstad, who has been ambivalent on the gay marriage issue from the start -- he has refused to get behind efforts to remove the judges at issue, and has instead called for a statewide vote on the question. It is unlikely that Brandstad is taking opposition to gay marriage into consideration in appointed new justices to replace the removed ones, so this whole effort, while likely to succeed, may end up being a flashy and expensive waste of time for its proponents. A similar anti-retention campaign is afoot in Florida, where agitators seek to remove from the bench three judges of Florida's supreme court, Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. These judges are under fire primarily for their votes on decisions upholding the constitutionality of Obamacare (which decision make no difference one way or the other under the Supremacy Clause), and for tightening protections against the use of the death penalty.

Ohio and North Carolina, on the other hand, have genuine electoral contests. In North Carolina, though the judges themselves are officially non-partisan, there is a race wherein one is being backed by the Republican establishment, another by the Democratic establishment. North Carolina's supreme court is now 4-3 Republican, with a Republican incumbent facing a challenge which could tilt the court 4-3 the other way. It is somewhat distressing that this is considered relevant, as the meaning of the law ought not change whether it's being read by a Republican or a Democrat judge, but that's where things stand. Lastly, Ohio has no such balance-beam split, but one appointed justice, Yvette McGee Brown, is facing a challenge to keep her seat. Brown is the only Democrat on the court in a state where no Democrat has won an election to the supreme court in well over a decade, so pundits are watchfully waiting to see if the presidential race, with its strong focus on Ohio, will affect the outcome of this judicial race.


For THE IRON NODER CHALLENGE 5: THE FERROUS FRONTIER and Election 2012: An Unofficial Quest Announcement

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