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Top Courts Don't Need Democrat, Republican Balance

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Attorney James Adams wanted to become a judge, so he sued.

He sued because the Delaware constitution required either Democrat or Republican judges, and he belonged to neither party. Lawmakers thought the law would be a good way to keep political balance on the bench.

Wrong, said the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Adams v. Governor of Delaware. People have freedom of association -- and not just Democrats and Republicans.

Political Balance

Adams calls himself an independent, like Sen. Bernie Sanders. But that disqualified him from a judgeship under the state constitution.

The law provides that, when there is an even number of judges on a court, no more than half of the judges belong to a single political party. In odd-numbered courts, no more than a bare majority may belong to one party.

The Third Circuit said it appreciated the idea -- to ensure against politically motivated decisions. But the law itself was politically biased.

"Paradoxically, by elevating one's political affiliation to a condition precedent to eligibility for appointment to the bench by the governor, Delaware has institutionalized the role of political affiliation rather than negated it," Judge Julio Fuentes wrote for the unanimous panel.

Freedom of Association

The appeals court said the political requirement violated the First Amendment and the freedom of association. They affirmed a trial court ruling that said as much.

However, they said it did not apply to family or common plea courts that were not subject to the political requirement.

As for Adams, he's still not a judge -- yet. The state has time to appeal.

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