The Supreme Court of the United States has long held that the right of suffrage is fundamental in a free and democratic society, and exercising voting rights in an unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights, such as those guaranteed by the First Amendment. But voters in Marion County have less influence than they may think about which judges are chosen for the Marion Superior Court. The system for electing judges in Marion County is unique in Indiana, and possibly the nation.
Under Indiana law, each of the major political parties conducts a primary election at which it selects exactly half of the seats to be filled, which renders the general election a mere formality. Voters in Marion County who do not cast a ballot in the primary election, therefore, have absolutely no say in electing judges to the Marion Superior Court. This process means that even people who do vote in the primary election have a say in only half of the judgeships to be filled.
Our democracy is premised on the right of each citizen to have a meaningful vote.
In November 2012, on behalf of Common Cause Indiana, the ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Common Cause Indiana v. Indiana Secretary of State, challenging state law governing Marion County's judicial election system. Our lawsuit seeks to ensure that when the State opts to fill positions through the ballot box, it does so in a manner that allows Hoosiers' votes to matter. Claiming Common Cause lacked standing and Eleventh Amendment immunity, the State filed a motion to dismiss, but in September 2013, the motion was denied. In October 2014, the district court entered judgment in our favor. The State has appealed and the matter was argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago on March 31, 2015.