Unlike many states, Oregon has avoided judicial partisanship. This protects judges from being swayed by campaign contributions and has helped to maintain public respect for our courts. Ballot Measure 40 will end that great tradition. We urge Oregon voters to vote "No" on Measure 40.
Measure 40 provides that each of Oregon's Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges must be elected by a district (not statewide, as now is the case), with the Legislature drawing the districts and assigning existing appellate judges to particular districts. The measure may be appealing at first glance, because it seems to foster geographic diversity. But Measure 40 is a Trojan horse for those who would politicize the judiciary.
Measure 40 undermines judicial independence. Its sponsors know the measure will make it easier for special interests to pick off appellate judges who make decisions they don't like — or to dissuade judges from making those decisions in the first place.
Measure 40 invites the Legislature to play politics with the judiciary. Under Measure 40, the Legislature would carve Oregon into districts for purposes of electing Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges. Voters would then elect judges to "represent" their district — which itself is a concept that is contrary to a fair and impartial judiciary that tries to follow the law.
Measure 40 requires judicial redistricting when legislative districts are reapportioned, assuring that the lines will be drawn at the height of partisan wrangling in the Legislature.
Measure 40 makes judges more vulnerable to special interests. Instead of voting in all seven Supreme Court races, each voter could vote in only one. Instead of voting in all 10 Court of Appeals races, each voter could vote in only two. Special interests will have a greater impact on smaller, regional elections where they can exploit single issues, and 15 percent of the voters in just one district could force a recall election for a judge, instead of needing 15 percent of the voters in the entire state, as is now required.
Measure 40 politicizes the judiciary. The judicial branch is intended to serve as a check on the legislative and executive branches. Instead of bending to the political sways of the day, we expect judges to decide disputes impartially and to be faithful to the law above all else. Measure 40 threatens the public's access to impartial justice and puts our judicial system at risk.
In sum, we hope that Oregon voters will vote "No" on Measure 40. Thank you.
Gary M. Berne of Stoll Stoll Berne Lokting & Shlachter P.C., Portland