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How to Tell if Judicial Candidates are Pro-Life

ve8QAd   |   September 01, 1999

Most pro-lifers are acutely aware of the importance of electing pro-life judges. Unlike candidates for other offices, however, you cannot ask them questions about their position on abortion. Judicial ethics will almost always prevent such a candidate from answering your questions. This is a dilemma.

Do you have a candidate questionnaire and publish the results prior to elections? Good. That’s your first amendment right and is one of the most important things you can do. But how do you rate judges? They won’t answer your questions and most of them don’t have clear track records. Still, if their positions are given, pro-life voters will routinely vote for the pro-life candidate. The question is – how do you find out? How do you nail them down?

Mrs. Barbara Willke, former president of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati, hit upon a very workable solution. First of all, she selected a panel of five attorneys. These were all mature, highly professional, well-known attorneys, all of whose careers brought them consistently into courtrooms in front of judges. These attorneys were completely dedicated pro-lifers, knew these judges, and had a measured judgment of their ethical positions (whether they were pro-life or not, activist, etc.). Mrs. Willke contacted each attorney separately, asking whether he or she would be one of a panel of five, but that he or she would not know who the others were, nor would their names ever be disclosed.

Then prior to election, she mailed each one of them an identical questionnaire. The questionnaire asked them to grade each judicial candidate as to their pro-life, pro-family qualifications. 1) Highly recommended, 2) Recommended, 3) Not recommended. Each attorney checked off their recommendations and put the unsigned ballot card in the enclosed self-addressed, stamped envelope. All five responded, and, happily enough, their recommendations proved to be near unanimous on each of the candidates. She kept their replies in a separate private file.

On the Candidate’s survey that was published in her newsletter, they were listed under JUDGES. Under the title was “this evaluation is according to pro-life, pro-family criteria and was received from our legal advisory committee.” She then listed each candidate with one of the three recommendations.

Cincinnati Right to Life is unique among city groups in that it distributes over 70,000 newsletters each month. Also, prior to election, a ballot card is distributed to many thousands of homes. This information was in the newsletter and also listed on the back of the ballot card. The result was that every pro-life, pro-family judge was elected, two pro-abortion judges were defeated to the shock and amazement of both parties and the local media. The two pro-abortion feminist judges were long-term incumbents. Many people, post-election, told Right to Life leaders that the wastebaskets in polling places, by the end of the day, were filled with Right to Life ballot cards and newsletters. Clearly, they had been used.

In retrospect, the key to success was obvious. The average voter most often knows who he or she is going to vote for for statewide office, for US Congress and other offices, but they usually don’t know one judge from another. They also may not know candidates for the state or local school board. They mean to vote pro-life but don’t know who to vote for, and if you give them this information, pro-life people nearly unanimously act on it. Incidentally, people were extremely grateful for the information, as her office phones rang off the hook in the days after the election with thanks for the information.

Some day we want to cleanse the federal courts of activist pro-abortion judges. Those judges come from lower courts, and they are originally elected at the local level. We recommend the above method to you.

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