The race for Supreme Court Justice is developing into a contest over who can be the most impartial. Voters will decide between District Judge and Choteau resident Laurie McKinnon and Missoula Public Defender Ed Sheehy.
Each candidate puts forth a slightly different view on what best demonstrates impartiality.
Public Defender Ed Sheehy says he’s showing his neutral stance through refusing endorsements.
His website does not list any, even from politically neutral figures like judges. It’s not that he hasn’t been receiving endorsements, he has.
“But I don’t want any endorsements from any judges, lawyers, whatever because I want to be able to say I’m gonna be fair and impartial,” Sheehy said.
He says the recent decision of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out Montana’s prohibition on partisan endorsements of judicial candidates is not a wise decision.
His opponent in this race for State Supreme Court, District Judge Laurie McKinnon, does have endorsements on her website. They are not political endorsements but some of the groups that have endorsed her are generally seen as conservative, like the Montana Chamber of Commerce and the Montana Farm Bureau.
Also the right-wing Montana Growth Network has put out fliers supporting McKinnon and has run ads against opponent Ed Sheehy. Judge McKinnon has not accepted an endorsement from this group.
She says she has demonstrated impartiality through her six years serving as a Judge, experience her opponent does not have.
As for the 9th circuit decision on partisan judicial endorsements, she says she will not give an opinion on that ruling, because the issue will likely come before the state Supreme Court.
“I think it’s very dangerous when a candidate for judicial office, particularly the highest court of our state indicates a position one way or another on something that will come before the Supreme Court,” McKinnon said.
McKinnon notes she does not list opinions on issues on her website, where Sheehy does.
McKinnon says she will bring her perspectives as both a lawyer and a judge to bear on the Supreme Court.
Sheehy faults her for saying that.
“You have to set aside all of your perspectives. I can’t say and will never say that I would present the criminal defense lawyer perspective to the Montana Supreme court,” Sheehy said.
He says his 34 year career as a lawyer taught him the law from many sides. But he says you have to make decisions on the court based on the letter of the law and nothing else.
His opponent Judge McKinnon agrees with that, although she stresses she has already been doing that. She says her current job is a very different one than Sheehy’s as a Public Defender, one who has to be an advocate for the client.
“And a judge cannot be an advocate and has to personally be neutral in their home and in their community but most importantly has to maintain that neutrality from the bench it’s a completely different role,” she said.
While the two of them fight to be seen as more neutral, it’s voters that will have to take a side on November 6th.