The questionable Louisiana Supreme Court decision that restored Shreveport Democrat Mayor Adrian Perkins to the ballot this fall endangers election integrity and requires the Louisiana Legislature to put matters to rights as soon as convenient.
Last week, the Court narrowly overruled a pair of lower court rulings that disqualified Perkins from reelection. On the sworn affidavit attached to candidate qualification, Perkins answered the majority of questions falsely, most prominently that at that time he was registered to vote at his homestead, and statute states that false attestation on any of several matters disqualifies a candidate.
Yet the majority opinion by no party Chief Justice John Weimer, backed by Democrat Assoc. Justice Piper Griffin and Republican Assoc. Justices James Genovese and Will Crain, engaged in the most extreme verbal gymnastics to escape this. That argued that legislative intent was unclear, lending itself to judicial interpretation and because penalties didn’t appear attached to provisions except for those dealing with timely income tax filing and absence of campaign fines, the questions that Perkins knowingly flubbed didn’t count, because the process for presenting candidates for voter scrutiny should be as lenient as possible.
The dissents, written by the north Louisiana’s Republican Assoc. Justices Scott Crichton and Jay McCallum, joined in by GOP Assoc. Justice Jeff Hughes, unsparingly demolished this dreck. They noted that, not using these words, the irony and hypocrisy behind the majority taking clear wording of statute and creating ambiguity where none existed, then, all the while claiming plenary institutions’ will must take precedence, using that manufacturing as a vehicle to insert its own interpretation into the election code.
Audaciously, the majority proclaimed it had to follow the Legislature, then proceeded to equate to the rulings of several lower courts following the logic presented in the dissents that did adhere to that will with a sole appeals court ruling that differed, using something not in statute but concocted by that rogue court – the principle that election qualification should be as robust as possible – and divined that stricture was superior in absence of a legislative intent otherwise that only the majority couldn’t see. In essence, it said except for the parts about campaign finance and payment of income taxes the attestation meant nothing, and candidates were free to put down anything they wanted no matter how far it could stray from the truth.
This tightrope-walking by the majority may have been a way to avoid a potential implication of accepting the dissenters’ logic: that even typographical mistakes could disqualify a candidate. But that wasn’t an issue here and should have been left to a potential future case – no challenge ever has been brought on those grounds, as the dissenters aptly noted – not for the majority to conjure a hypothetical situation and blatantly engage in judicial activism as a result.
Simply, the majority wanted a particular outcome and tortured jurisprudence enough to make it happen. That accomplished, now the Legislature has to respond, even if to counter such puerility.
Next session, with state elections on deck, legislators will have the amend the election code to leave no ambiguity that false attestation, regardless of whether the error sprang from intentional deception, to any of the seven statements amounts to failure to qualify legally. It further can write language to exempt typographical kinds of errors.
While there is merit to the proposition that false attestations don’t need punishment by disqualification but rather should fall to voters to decide on whether that kind of candidate behavior should be rewarded with elective office, more importantly the integrity of the electoral process must be protected. Allowing a deliberate flouting of it erodes the health of a republic based upon decisions made by majority rule using rules agreed upon by a majority.
Jeff Sadow can be reached at jeffsadowcolumn-HannaPub@yahoo.com