Indiana lawmakers overhauled the judicial selection process for the Marion County Superior Court late Friday night before adjourning the General Assembly.
The new system takes the nominating process out of the hands of political parties and voters—and gives it to a 14-member selection committee and the governor.
The previous system—which involved an unusual system that involved slating candidates for elections by the political parties—had been thrown out by a federal appeals court in 2015 as unconstitutional, and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long said it was the Legislature’s responsibility to replace it.
“It may not be perfect, but I think it’s better than the alternative, which was to leave it to the court in Chicago to draw it and figure out our system,” Long said. “I prefer doing it ourselves.”
The plan got its final stamp of approval Friday night. The House voted 69-30 on the deal, and the Senate approved it 28-22.
Under the new plan, when there is a vacancy on the court, the selection committee sends names of three nominees to the governor. The governor appoints one of those nominees within 60 days.
After the judge’s term, voters will decide to retain—or not—the judge in a general election.
Officials with appointments to the committee include the speaker of the House, Senate President Pro Tempore, and the minority leaders of both chambers. Other members include attorneys added by various law organizations, people appointed by the political parties, and Indiana’s chief justice.
Democrats have been concerned about the judicial selection process because of the possibility for less diverse judges.
"Right now, Marion County has a very diverse body,” said Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis. “Theres no guarantee we would have the diversity in our judges if we have an appointed system. We try to say the commissioners should consider diversity when our county officials are making those appointments, but again, there’s no guarantee."
The approved plan “requires that certain committee appointments reflect the diversity and makeup of Marion County,” but that did not do a lot to assuage concerns.
There was also concern about the fact that Marion County would be different than most other Indiana counties with true elections.
“That is fundamentally unfair,” Pryor said.
And the discussion on the bill also got heated in the Senate among Republicans. Some said the bill should have included direct choice for voters.
Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, urged his Republican colleagues to have the “courage” to vote against the proposal and “do the right thing."
Long said he didn’t agree with the argument that it was taking away choice from voters.
"The Marion County system was never really a true vote for the people,” Long said. “It was slating by the [political] parties. Whoever the parties slated was then the only candidate and they always won. People had a vote but it didn’t really matter.”