Off-Limits Political Turf

Nonpartisan posts have, by law and tradition, been off limits to political parties in California. That should include judicial offices, too.

It did, until last month when a California Supreme Court opinion held that although state law does prohibit political parties from making endorsements in local races, it is silent on judicial elections. And so the court held that political parties may endorse candidates in judicial elections.

It was a decision that bothered even the court, as well it should. But the justices wrote that it should be the Legislature, not the judiciary, that corrects the lapse in the law. In fact, in a concurring opinion, Justice Malcolm Lucas, who was appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian, noted the strong state interest in preserving the nonpartisan nature of judicial campaigns.

We concur with that. And with the bill that Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove) introduced Monday in response to the Supreme Court decision and Lucas' opinion. Robinson's bill seeks to specifically prohibit any political party from endorsing, supporting or opposing anyone running for any judicial seat.

We recognize the First Amendment rights of free speech and expression, and so does Robinson's legislation. It would not prohibit any political party officer from making a personal endorsement. But it would prevent the parties from becoming involved, financially or any other way. The parties, by state law, can't inject partisanship into nonpartisan races for a city council, county board or special district elections such as a school board. They shouldn't be allowed to meddle in judicial elections, either.

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