We have a real chance to change to far better courts

Published 2:26 pm Friday, October 16, 2020

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You can’t turn on your television right now without hearing about the partisan debate currently underway over the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. This week, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are questioning President Trump’s nominee to our nation’s highest court, vetting her selection before a final vote. Barrett has displayed a high level of intellect, charisma and professionalism throughout the process, leaving most of us from her native state of Louisiana quite proud of her New Orleans roots.

While much attention is on the process used by the president and the Senate to determine who sits on the federal judiciary, voters in Louisiana can’t forget that we have a historic opportunity this fall to directly determine the future of our own state and district courts. When we go vote on November 3, we’re not just picking the next president, a U.S. senator and some congressmen. We’ll also be directly determining who will sit on the Louisiana Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal and District Courts.

Unless you’re an attorney, the judiciary is everybody’s least favorite branch of government to deal with. Think about it — you really only go to court if you have a problem. So if you haven’t been in the courtroom yourself to know and understand how a judge performs his or her duties, you probably do like quite a few voters and look for some familiar names or skip over the judges on your ballot, or (gasp) — simply ask a lawyer you know for advice.

You probably have an opinion about Barrett’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, as most Americans do. But it’s just as likely that you do not have as strong of an opinion on who sits on the Louisiana Supreme Court or who your local judges are. When it comes to the business climate in Louisiana, citizens must remember that what’s decided in our courtrooms can have just as profound an impact as decisions coming from the State Capitol. In fact, it takes simple majorities of 53 House members, 20 Senators and the signature of one governor — that’s 74 people — to enact most bills into law. But one judge unfairly interpreting that law can undo that work. And most people never even notice.

Rather than “legislating from the bench,” our judges should fairly and evenly apply the law. And that’s what we should be looking for as we get to know these candidates in the races leading up to Election Day on Nov. 3. At the close of qualifying, there were 139 candidates running for two contested Louisiana Supreme Court seats, four contested Courts of Appeal seats and 51 contested Judicial District Court seats.

Until this year, there was no single place that you could go to find all the information you needed to be informed about the judiciary. That’s why we created LouisianaJudiciary.com. This guide to your third branch of government from LABI’s Louisiana Free Enterprise Institute has interactive maps, demographic data, judges’ biographies and more, from the local judicial district court election section level on up to the Supreme Court.

LABI’s Political Action Committees have also made endorsements in key judicial races on all levels. These decisions were made by our PAC boards, which are made up of business leaders who represent all areas and industries of Louisiana. Our PACs looked for candidates who are determined to be fair administrators of justice and are willing to work hard to keep our courts from becoming a bureaucratic backlog.

We’ve found qualified candidates like Judge Jay McCallum in northeast Louisiana, who is running to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by retiring Justice Marcus Clark. McCallum has a distinguished record, and a firm commitment to bring fairness, honesty, and transparency to Louisiana’s highest court. You can find the full list of candidates endorsed by LABI’s PACs online.

During the debate on legal reforms in recent legislative sessions, the pushback from a few judges was a scary indication that there are still those in our court system who remain unwilling to modernize. This small cabal quietly lobbied the legislature to oppose legal reforms and judicial transparency last session, warning of catastrophic effects of having to seat more juries, adjust their dockets and more, which should make us as taxpayers wonder … isn’t it time to make the judiciary just as transparent and accountable as the other branches of government?

If you want to support those in the judiciary trying to reform it and smoke out those trying to keep it in the dark, you have to get to know the players involved. Let’s get to know our judiciary. Because there are some really good judges out there. Judges who are transparent and accountable when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars, managing their docket, handling their business honorably and truly serving as even-handed arbiters of our laws. Let’s learn to spot them and put them in a position to lead.

We don’t get to directly choose who sits on the U.S. Supreme Court — we elect a president and U.S. senators to fulfill that constitutional duty. But we, as citizens, have an equally important duty in electing who will be our judges on the state and local level. So, when you go to the polls in just a few short weeks, do your part to make an informed decision. We all have a tremendous opportunity, and responsibility, to determine the future of our state. Go to www.louisianajudiciary.com to take the responsibility seriously.

Stephen Waguespack is the president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI).