Bill to Limit Judge Endorsements Gains

From a Times Staff Writer

A bill that would prohibit political parties from endorsing candidates for nonpartisan judicial office was approved 4-1 Wednesday by the Senate Elections Committee and sent to the floor.

The bill by Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove) was introduced in response to a recent decision of the state Supreme Court. The court held that while the state Constitution requires that local school, county, city and judicial offices be nonpartisan, it does not prohibit political parties from endorsing or opposing a candidate for a nonpartisan office. Therefore, the court ruled, political parties are permitted to make such endorsements.

Robinson said that elections for bench positions should be free from political influence and that political parties should "stay out of judicial elections." The measure would apply to races ranging from local trial courts to confirmation of state Supreme Court justices.

Opponents argued that the bill would infringe on constitutional guarantees of free speech. No supporters testified before the committee.

"It (the proposal) is a mere Band-Aid . . . to the problem of partisanship in judicial elections," said ACLU representative Marjorie Swartz. "It is a First Amendment restriction of the speech of parties."

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