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The Christian Coalition of Georgia is putting statewide judicial candidates on the spot, asking them to declare their positions on abortion, school prayer, homosexual conduct and other hot-button issues. The group’s effort puts it at odds with a private organization that has been asking candidates to sign a pledge to follow old rules on campaign behavior and to refrain from filling out the surveys. Thanks to a federal court ruling in 2002, this is the first election in Georgia where judicial candidates have been allowed to declare positions on issues and offer unfettered criticism of their opponents. That’s good news for the Christian Coalition, which thinks voters are entitled to know a judicial candidate’s position on broad social issues that may come before the courts. But the Georgia Committee for Ethical Judicial Campaigns believes it’s unethical for judicial candidates to commit themselves to positions on issues that may come before them in court. The latter group mailed letters to the candidates on Thursday, requesting them to conduct their campaigns in an ethical manner and to refrain from announcing positions on matters that may come before them if they are elected to the bench. Thus far, the only candidates who have signed the ethics pledge are Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears, Court of Appeals candidate Thomas C. Rawlings and an incumbent Court of Appeals judge who faces no opposition, Edward H. Johnson. “The Committee hopes all statewide judicial candidates will sign our pledge, which asks the candidates to refrain from committing to how they might rule on future matters,” said the chairman of the committee, R. William Ide III. “If a group asks a statewide judicial candidate to take a position on issues that may come before him or her as a judge, the candidate should respectfully decline to answer that particular question on grounds that it may cause a recusal should the issue ever come before that person as a sitting judge. The public will have no confidence in our judiciary if they believe its rulings are predetermined,” Ide said. Sadie Fields, chairman of the Christian Coalition of Georgia, said the results of her organization’s survey will be distributed to approximately 750,000 voters in the form of a voter guide. She was disappointed by the reaction of the Georgia Committee for Ethical Judicial Campaigns. “I find it very unfortunate,” she said. “The courts have declared that we do have a right to learn about the philosophy of judicial candidates. We believe it is a wonderful opportunity for the people of Georgia to cast an informed and educated vote regarding the candidates that want to serve in the highest courts in our state.” HOT-BUTTON ISSUES The survey, created by Atlanta attorney James P. Kelly III, covers five issues: abortion, homosexual conduct, nonsectarian prayer at public school graduation ceremonies, parental choice in education and equal access for theology majors to a state-funded college scholarship program. Using cases from the U.S. Supreme Court dealing with each of those issues, Kelly selected short passages from majority and dissenting opinions. Candidates are asked to choose with which passage they most agree. There is also a space to check “no response,” but Kelly noted that if a candidate has ruled on the issue in the past, the Christian Coalition will note the ruling with an asterisk and a footnote. The Christian Coalition has not declared support for any of the judicial candidates. However, in a January speech to the Christian Coalition, Gov. George E. “Sonny” Perdue III urged the audience to field an opponent to Sears, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We hope Justice Sears completes the survey … This is democratic process at its best,” said Kelly. Sears was campaigning in Columbus on Thursday and was not available to comment. Her deputy campaign manager, Victor Lai, said the justice received the Christian Coalition survey that morning but had not yet reviewed it. “In the past she hasn’t been averse to filling out questionnaires,” Lai said. “She intends to go through it [the Christian Coalition survey] and will respond accordingly.” Sears, a 1992 appointee of then-Gov. Zell B. Miller and the state’s first black woman on the high court, survived a re-election contest in 1998. She defeated Atlanta litigator George M. Weaver, whose campaign focused largely on ideological issues-in particular Sears’ opposition to the state’s anti-sodomy statute, which was later declared unconstitutional. Weaver’s campaign was rebuked as misleading by the Judicial Qualifications Commission, but he sued and won a federal appeals court ruling striking down the JQC’s judicial campaign speech rules as free speech violations. Weaver v. Bonner, 309 F.3d 1312 (11th Cir. 2002). To fill the void left by the JQC, the Georgia Committee for Ethical Judicial Campaigns is asking statewide judicial candidates to pledge to follow the old rules on campaign behavior. Sears’ opponent in this election, former Cobb County Superior Court Judge G. Grant Brantley, said previously he was comfortable following the old JQC rules during his three Cobb races. But he said he won’t “sign away” his First Amendment rights, referring to the ethics group’s pledge. On Thursday, Brantley said he received the Christian Coalition’s survey but hasn’t yet reviewed it. APPEALS HOPEFULS CONSIDER SURVEY At the Georgia Court of Appeals, the field is set for those seeking the seat of retiring Judge Frank M. Eldridge. The ballot will include W. Ashley Hawkins, a sole practitioner from Forsyth; Thomas C. Rawlings, a Middle Circuit juvenile court judge; litigator Lee T. Wallace, a former partner of Butler, Wooten, Fryhofer, Daughtery & Sullivan; Lawrenceville criminal defense attorney Michael M. Sheffield; former Cobb County prosecutor Debra H. Bernes; and Howard N. Mead II, former executive counsel to then-Gov. Roy E. Barnes. Hawkins said he received the Christian Coalition survey Thursday morning but had only glanced at it. “I’m inclined not to sign anything of this nature,” he said. “Even though it says you’re not taking a position, I think you’re taking a position when you fill this out.” Similarly, Bernes said she would not fill out the survey. “You don’t want to subject yourself to a recusal because you’ve expressed an opinion on an issue,” she said. Rawlings said he had not received the survey, but he may fill it out when it arrives. “I intend to look it over,” Rawlings said. “If I can ethically give this group information that will assist their membership in making a decision, I will do so. However, I’m not going to jeopardize my ability to rule on cases in my present judicial position or in the future.” A spokesman for Sheffield said the candidate “definitely plans to fill it out,” and he will not sign the ethics group’s pledge. The other candidates did not respond to calls seeking comment by press time. Fields said the deadline for returning the survey is next Friday. The results will be posted on the Christian Coalition of Georgia Web site at www.gachristiancoalition.org, and the voter guides will be distributed on or about July 5. The first 250,000 copies will be mailed to people in the Christian Coalition database and another 500,000 will be distributed through a “network of activists,” Fields said. The Christian Coalition of Georgia’s survey of judicial candidates quotes passages from the majority and dissenting opinions in key U.S. Supreme Court decisions and asks candidates with which philosophy they most agree. The survey names the authors of dissents, but not of majority opinions. Here are the topics and opinion excerpts quoted in the survey. ABORTION From Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), in which the court upheld some restrictions on abortion but defended and refined Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). Majority: “The woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy before viability is the most central principle of Roe v. Wade. It is a rule of law and a component of liberty we cannot renounce.” Dissent of Justice Antonin Scalia: “The permissibility of abortion, and the limitations upon it, are to be resolved like most important questions in our democracy: by citizens trying to persuade one another and then voting � The issue is whether it [the power of a woman to abort her unborn child] is a liberty protected by the Constitution of the United States. I am sure it is not. I reach that conclusion � because of two simple facts: (1) the Constitution says absolutely nothing about it, and (2) the longstanding traditions of American society have permitted it to be legally proscribed.” HOMOSEXUAL CONDUCT From Lawrence v. Texas, 123 S.Ct. 2472 (2003), in which the court ruled unconstitutional Texas’ statute criminalizing sex between two people of the same gender. Majority: “When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice.” Dissent of Scalia: “Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means. Social perceptions of sexual and other morality change over time, and every group has the right to persuade its fellow citizens that its view of such matters is the best � But persuading one’s fellow citizens is one thing, and imposing one’s views in absence of democratic majority will is something else � What Texas has chosen to do is well within the range of traditional democratic action, and its hand should not be stayed through the invention of a brand-new ‘constitutional right’ by a Court that is impatient of democratic change.” PUBLIC SCHOOL GRADUATION PRAYER From Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992), in which the court ruled unconstitutional a school district’s policy of inviting clergy to offer prayers at graduations. Majority: “Though the efforts of the school official in this case to find common ground appear to have been a good faith attempt to recognize the common aspects of religions, and not the divisive ones, our precedents do not permit school officials to assist in composing prayers as an incident to a formal exercise for their students.” Dissent of Scalia: “In holding that the Establishment Clause prohibits invocations and benedictions at public school graduation ceremonies, the Court-with nary a mention that it is doing so-lays waste a tradition that is as old as public school graduation ceremonies themselves, and that is a component of an even more longstanding American tradition of nonsectarian prayer to God at public celebrations generally � Today’s opinion shows more forcefully than volumes of argumentation why our Nation’s protection, that fortress which is our Constitution, cannot possibly rest upon the changeable philosophical predilections of the Justices of this Court, but must have deep foundations in the historic practices of our people.” PARENTAL CHOICE IN EDUCATION From Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, in which the court ruled constitutional Ohio’s school choice program that awards publicly funded scholarships to students in public, private and religious schools. Majority: “[The cases of] Mueller, Witters, and Zobrest thus make clear that where a government aid program is neutral with respect to religion, and provides assistance directly to a broad class of citizens who, in turn, direct government aid to religious schools wholly as result of their own genuine and independent private choice, the program is not readily subject to challenge under the Establishment Clause.” Dissent of Justice Stephen G. Breyer: “In [the Court's] view, the parental choice that offers each religious group a kind of equal opportunity to secure government funding overcomes the Establishment Clause concern for social concord � In a society composed of many different religious creeds, I fear that this present departure from the Court’s earlier understanding risks creating a form of religiously based conflict potentially harmful to the Nation’s social fabric.” SCHOLARSHIPS FOR THEOLOGY MAJORS From Locke v. Davey, 124 S.Ct. 1307 (2004), in which the court said that Washington state could not provide state-funded scholarships to theology majors. Majority: “Training someone to lead a congregation is an essentially religious endeavor � Indeed, majoring in devotional theology is akin to a religious calling as well as an academic pursuit. That a State would deal differently with religious education for the ministry than with education for other callings is a product of these views, not evidence of hostility toward religion.” Dissent of Scalia: “No field of study but religion is singled out for disfavor in this fashion. Davey [the theology major] is not asking for a special benefit to which others are not entitled. He seeks only equal treatment — the right to direct his scholarship to his chosen course of study, a right every other Promise Scholar enjoys.”

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