A bill that would prohibit political parties from endorsing candidates for nonpartisan judicial office was approved Wednesday by the Senate Elections Committee.
The proposal by Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove) was approved 4 to 1 and sent to the floor despite opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union and others.
The bill was introduced in response to a recent decision of the state Supreme Court. The court held that while the state Constitution historically 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, whose bill was limited to judicial offices, said that elections for bench positions should be free from political influence and 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."
Traditionally, the Libertarian Party refrains from making endorsements, state party representative Bill Evers of Palo Alto told the committee. However, he said, his party views the measure as "the most heinous kind of restriction on freedom of speech."
Agar Jaikes of San Francisco, a Democratic State Central Committee member, urged the committee to defeat what he called the "devastating attack on partisan party politics" because the bill would hinder party development and limit public exposure.