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One of the simple reasons why Republicans have bested Democrats in recent elections lies in their ability to better control the message and the talking points…even when the message is a general contradiction on their own stance. There is a great example of this in a new ballot initiative proposed by former state Senator John Andrews, an ultra-right wing conservative who made headlines last fall for some absurd statements he made in opposition to Referenda C&D. From The Denver Post:
Former Colorado Senate President John Andrews introduced an initiative Friday that would impose term limits on state Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court judges, saying activist judges need to be reined in.
“The people of Colorado have made it clear again and again their desire for accountability of public officials through term limits. If we have term limits on the executive and legislative branches, we should have term limits on the judicial branch,” the Republican from Centennial told The Associated Press.
“There are powerful interests in Colorado that seek to accomplish political change through judicial lawmaking which they couldn’t accomplish through the democratic process.”
Two years ago when Andrews was Senate president, lawmakers killed his proposal to put a similar measure on the ballot after state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis told lawmakers the measure would make the judiciary more politicized.
Andrews is one many conservative Republicans fond of using the term “activist judge” in reference to a judge who they think has a social agenda. They decry these “activist judges” whenever a court ruling goes against how they wanted it to go, as if they are only “activist judges” if they are ruling against their wishes. These same conservatives, including the political arm of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, have been campaigning on behalf of Supreme Court nominees who they hope will rule in their favor on issues like abortion and gay marriage. In other words, they want the next Supreme Court nominees to be “activist judges” — just as long as they are on their side.
So what does Andrews propose that we do in Colorado to do to get rid of “activist judges?”
He wants to make the process more conducive to creating more “activist judges,” of course. By politicizing the courts in the form of term limits, it will be easier to put “activist judges” on the bench — judges that will be “activists” on issues that Andrews favors.
For more context, take a look at the Associated Press version of the story:
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and other Republicans have been upset by rulings against a GOP redistricting plan and school vouchers, and another decision that said students can’t be required to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Owens said Democrats, who hold a 5-2 majority on the Colorado Supreme Court, are using the courts in an attempt to cling to power (Republicans now control the White House, Senate and House and the corresponding offices in Colorado).
“I believe Democrats nationally are trying to protect a branch of government where people have the least power and they have the most,” Owens said.
In 1986, California conservatives angry that the state Supreme Court kept overturning death sentences mounted a campaign against three justices when they were up for a retention vote. The judges were thrown out of office. Currently, two California Supreme Court justices who voted to strike down the state’s parental-consent law are being attacked by anti-abortion activists determined to vote them out of office in November.
Democrats nationally are trying to protect a branch of government where people have the least power and they have the most, says Owens. So he supports an initiative that would allow Republicans more opportunity to install judges that rule in their favor.
Back to my original point, this whole debate is a great example of how Republicans have been much better in recent history at using a message and talking points to their advantage — even when the message should contradict their own actions. Democrats have let Republicans get away with the term “activist judges” as though Democrats are the ones seeking the partisan judges. When public opinion often turns on a message point or a brief soundbyte, it’s tough to win the battle of perception when you fold the fight on two simple words.