In their lawsuit against the Lake County judicial selection, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott joined the City of Hammond on Friday on a motion to prevent the Lake County Judiciary Nominations Board from making the trial open a replacement for the late Judge Diane Boswell, who died in October.
The City of Hammond et al. v. Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission, 2: 21-cv-160, was filed after Governor Eric Holcomb signed the House Enrolled Act 1453 counties, and the governor and their respective district officers were given sole power to elect all members of the nomination committees.
The bill, written by Rep. Michael Aylesworth, R-Hebron, has met with fierce opposition from attorneys, judges and the bar associations. But Aylesworth described it as a “restart” of the process, saying he had heard from lawyers that the judicial selection in the northern Indiana counties was politically biased.
McDermott and the other plaintiffs allege the entire judicial selection process violates the 1965 Suffrage Act because it disproportionately prevents minorities from electing their high court judges. Judicial selection – where a commission compiles a list of candidates who are sent to the governor, who then selects one for the bank – is used in Lake, St. Joseph, Allen and Marion counties, all of which have high minority populations . The residents of these districts will later have the opportunity to vote on the selection, but only on whether the nominee will be retained.
The memorandum in support of the motion for injunction states that 82% of white Indiana residents have the option to vote their judges, only 34% of black residents have equal rights, and approximately 49% of all minorities are denied full voting rights.
“… Indiana’s two-tier electoral system for judges (one for most whites, the other for most minorities) violates the VRA,” the plaintiffs write in their memorandum.
Earlier this month, the Lake County JNC opened applications to fill the position vacated by Boswell’s death.
However, plaintiffs are asking the US District Court for the Northern District of Indiana to suspend the nomination process in order to allow the Indiana General Assembly “the ability to establish a VRA non-violating judicial voting system in Lake County.” They argue that the simplest workaround would be to allow Lake County residents to vote for the High Court justices.
In their memorandum, plaintiffs quote Bradley v. Work, 154 F.3d 704, 706 (7th Cir. 1998), which provides that the VRA applies to Lake County judicial retention elections. According to the plaintiffs, this judgment is important in order to underline that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act applies to “political processes leading to the nomination or election” of a candidate.
“That’s exactly what this is all about – the nomination process in Lake County (through the JNC to the governor, but only in high minority counties), which means that the governor’s nominees are retained, rather than an open vote with primary and general elections other candidates as in the other 88 counties, ”says the memorandum. “… The VRA demands that such a process be ‘equally open’ and excludes minorities from being given ‘less opportunity’ to participate. The nomination and election processes for judges in Indiana are certainly not “equally open” as a majority of Indiana minorities cannot vote until years later (and in a different and unequal re-election), which is certainly “less opportunity” to participate. “
In October, the Northern Indiana District Court granted the state’s motion for intervention. The state found that state code 5.1 (a) (1) allows the attorney general to join the case as it challenges the constitutionality of federal law, Indiana Code Section 33-33-45-28, and HEA 1453 .
The plaintiffs are represented by Bose McKinney & Evans LLP. The defendants are represented by the Indiana Attorney General.
Last month, Holcomb appointed Heather Delgado of Barnes & Thornburg, David Wickland, a solo practitioner, and Todd Williams, a non-attorney, to the Lake County JNC. The district commissioners had previously appointed Alfredo Estrada of Burke Costanza & Carberry, Brandy Darling of the Lake County District Attorney and Aimbrell Holmes, administrator of Gary City Court.
In St. Joseph County, Holcomb’s appointments to local JNC include Michael Misch of Anderson Agostino & Keller, Katy Wrona, a lone practitioner, and Sean Hall, a non-attorney. The district commissioners have Dr. Theresa Cruthird of St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, Joseph Grabill of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, and Jamie O’Brien, an attorney with O’Brien & Telloyan.
IL Editor Olivia Covington contributed to this report.