The latest political intrigue of the 2013 legislative session is HB 1072. It seeks to repeal the state law that prohibits any political party to endorse or nominate any candidate for judicial office. The measure was introduced by the House Judiciary Committee at the request of Chief Justice David Gilbertson. Currently a violation of the ban is a Class 2 misdemeanor.
UPDATE: Upon further reading, the full chapter of 12-9 puts this measure in context. The legislation would remove the penalty but it wouldn’t change another law that prohibits any reference to party ballot or party affiliation of the candidate. The judicial election ballots would still carry the term “nonpolitical.” So, political parties would be allowed to make their endorsements and nominate candidates if they wished, but there still would be the nonpolitical primary election (if more than two candidates filed for the same judicial seat) in June, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the nonpolitical general election in November. Political parties would be freed under the Gilbertson bill to become openly involved, while the ballot would treat the candidates as nonpartisan.
SECOND UPDATE: Greg Sattizahn, legal and legislative counsel for the Unified Judicial System, explained today this issue first came to the chief justice’s attention after the 2006 election, through the special panel that serves as a monitor of conduct in South Dakota judicial elections. Sattizahn said only two states — South Dakota and Montana — had the criminal penalty and ban, and Montana’s law was struck down last August by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He said the repeal of South Dakota’s law would take off the table a possibility for a legal challenge by a candidate in 2014. The legislation is set for a hearing Friday (Jan. 18) in the House Judiciary Committee.