A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

U.S. Rep. Massie campaigns for Supreme Court candidate Fischer, despite nonpartisan judgeships

By Jack Brammer
NKyTribune reporter

SHELBYVILLE – Conservative Republican U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie appeared on the campaign trail Thursday with Joe Fischer, the self-proclaimed “The Conservative Republican” who is running for the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Fischer’s opponent in the judicial race, incumbent Justice Michelle Keller of Fort Mitchell, called the move “completely inappropriate” in the nonpartisan race and said it violates Section 117 of the Kentucky Constitution which calls for the nonpartisan election of all judges in Kentucky.

“How can citizens have confidence that judges will set aside partisan politics and rule based on the law if this is how judicial candidates campaign?” asked Keller.

Fischer, a state representative from Fort Thomas who has been criticized by some for using the “Conservative Republican” label in a nonpartisan race, disagreed with Keller’s interpretation of the Constitution.

During an interview in Shelbyville before he spoke to the crowd of about 50 at the local country club, Fischer said the state Constitution says, “Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the Court of Appeals, Circuit and District Court shall be elected from their respective districts or circuits on a nonpartisan basis as provided by law.”

He said many people stop reading the section after “a nonpartisan basis” and ignores “as provided by law.”

Fischer said the state legislature makes the law and the only law legislature has made in this area about judicial elections is that the races shall be placed on the nonpartisan section of the ballot.

“There is no law against a judicial candidate identifying his political party. That is my legal analysis.”

He told the crowd that the “C” in his last name stands for “constitutional conservative.”

Keller, in response Thursday night, said there is nothing in state statutes contrary to the section in the Constitution about nonpartisan judicial elections.

She also noted that the legislature also makes laws about the boundaries of judicial districts.

Massie said in his speech that courts today are too often making law instead of interpreting law. He said the Constitution is not a living document to change with the times. “It means what it says,” he said.

“We’ve got liberals and leftists for judges representing conservative districts. The First Amendment with freedom of speech has been suppressed in Kentucky,” he said.

He added without mentioning Keller’s name that the judge Fischer is running against is one of Gov. Andy Beshear’s favorite. Beshear’s father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, appointed Keller to the high court.

Fischer had Massie as his special guest at campaign stops Thursday in Falmouth, Independence, Owenton and Shelbyville.

Justice Michelle Keller

Fischer and Keller are vying in the 6th District that stretches from Bracken County to Shelby County.

In promoting the tour with Massie, Fischer featured in the advance notices the “Conservative Republican” label. In a 46-second audio ad, Massie said he was endorsing Fischer.

A private, non-profit, nonpartisan organization created 16 years ago to safeguard the integrity of the judiciary in Kentucky judicial elections has criticized Fischer twice for being partisan in the race
The Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee in August warned about Fischer’s use of the “conservative Republican” in his campaign.

It said Fischer had the federal First Amendment right to publicize his political affiliation and records in public service but he was emphasizing too much his partisan affiliation.

In October, U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell denied Fischer’s request to block the state Judicial Conduct Commission from taking any action against him based on complaints it had received about his campaigning. The commission is the only agency in the state authorized to take disciplinary action against a sitting judge. The Kentucky Supreme Court can review its work.

Caldwell’s ruling also applied to Court of Appeals candidate Robert Winter, who said he thinks the commission might be coming at him for saying in his campaign materials that he is a registered Republican. Winter is trying to defeat incumbent Susanne Cetrulo in a race for the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

Fischer and Winter appealed Caldwell’s ruling to the U.S District Court of Appeals. On Oct. 28, it held an injunction against the Commission, blocking it from taking any actions against the candidates.

Kentucky is one of 13 states that require nonpartisan Supreme Court races.

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