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Guest Column: Want a Honest, Fair and Transparent Judiciary?

August 7, 2020

Guest Column
By Bo Staples

Ever since middle school civics, that quadrennial Tuesday is etched in your subconscious calendar. Presidential Election Day. So you're already well aware that on November 3, we’ll all head to the polls and decide if President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden will live in the White House for the next four years. But aside from that most pressing decision, most Louisianans are rightfully focused on other, more prescient factors: getting back to work, school reopening, or if they’ll be able to watch a game in person, in Tiger Stadium this fall.
Given all that is happening in the world right now, getting voters to pay attention to this fall’s “down-ballot” races is not an easy task. Sure, there will be a partisan battle in the U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Sen. Bill Cassidy and Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins, a Democrat. Meanwhile over in the House, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham is retiring after three terms, and his chief of staff, Luke Letlow, is vying against Rep. Lance Harris and seven other candidates for the open seat in Northeast Louisiana. Several other incumbent Congressmen have attracted minor challengers, but none are likely to change the trajectory of power, policy or playing fields in Louisiana politics. 

That is, until we get to the judiciary.
November 3 provides Louisianans with a tremendous opportunity to change our state’s future and reshape our critical third branch of government; our judiciary. We’ll be casting ballots for two new justices on the Louisiana Supreme Court, four judges to sit on the benches of the Courts of Appeal, and more than 50 local District Court judges. Because Louisiana sees its highest voter turnout in a Presidential Election, and this amount of state judicial races only lines up with the contest to be commander-in-chief every 12 years, you’ll have the largest amount of citizens voting for judges that we’ve seen since 2008. It appears our country is facing new unrest and questions of civil liberties at every turn. What better way to steady the ship of state than to empower fair-minded, transparent jurists to apply our laws and rule on the most pressing issues of our time?
Now, if you don’t know much about the judiciary, have no fear, you’re not alone. The judiciary is the single branch of government that the average citizen only has to deal with when they have a major problem, so the vast majority of voters have no idea who their elected judges even are. To help better educate the public, LABI’s Louisiana Free Enterprise Institute has created, an online resource for the public to explore the judiciary from their local district on up to the state Supreme Court. We want voters to get to know their judges and understand their courts and complex district lines a bit better.
The state’s marquee judicial race is in Northeast Louisiana, where voters will fill the unexpired term of retiring Justice Marcus Clark (R-West Monroe) in the Fourth District’s Supreme Court seat. This election district covers 20 parishes across Northeast and Central Louisiana, with population centers in Monroe, Alexandria, and Ruston. The election is an intra-party contest between Judge Jay McCallum (R-Farmerville) of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal, and Judge Shannon Gremillion (R-Alexandria) of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal. The winner will serve the remaining six years of Clark’s term.
Judge McCallum, who has been endorsed by LABI’s NorthPAC, is not a political newcomer, having won his first election to the Legislature in 1991 at age 31. He also served as a prosecutor in both Union and Lincoln Parishes, and has served the last 18 years as both a District Judge and in his current position on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal. Judge Gremillion has held his seat on the Third Circuit for 12 years, after winning an incredibly close race to succeed his father, Judge Glenn Gremillion. Prior to his tenure on the bench, Gremillion spent 13 years as a practicing attorney. 
Several open seats on the Courts of Appeal have led to four competitive races around the state in the Shreveport, Lake Charles, Baton Rouge and the River Parishes region. These judges are a crucial part of the legal process, able to affirm or overturn a judgement made by a District Court. The tremendous power of judicial review must not be overlooked, for no matter how many good bills become law in the Legislature and are signed by the Governor, all it takes is one decision from an activist judge to invalidate that law and tie the state up in costly litigation.
Every single District Judge in Louisiana is up for re-election this fall. At the close of qualifying, and with ballot challenges still being fought, voters are looking at roughly 55 contested district races around the state where we will get at least 40 first-time judges on the district bench. Not to mention, many more city court and other local judges in communities across the state. We hope these newly elected judges will join with current reform-minded judges to help move our judiciary towards a more transparent and efficient judicial system. Look for our PACs to take an active role in supporting reform-minded textualists to benches across the state as we continue our push for legal reform.
On November 3rd, Louisiana voters are not just going to just pick a President and a U.S. Senator, we also will have an incredible opportunity to determine the direction of our state’s judiciary for years to come. Let’s pull back the secrecy that has shrouded the third branch of government for decades and embrace the ideas of honesty, fairness and transparency that our state deserves.