Palin rally becomes issue in Nevada judicial race
October 9, 2008
RENO ” A Nevada Supreme Court candidate has sharply criticized her opponent’s comments at a rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin last month.
Deborah Schumacher, a Washoe County Family Court judge, contends Kris Pickering “crossed the line” as a candidate for a nonpartisan judicial post when she praised Palin and John McCain at the Carson City event.
“There were words used by Ms. Pickering that aligned herself with the ticket,” Schumacher said Wednesday at a debate sponsored by the Washoe County Bar Association. “A judge would not make that mistake.”
Pickering, a lawyer who has specialized in civil litigation, defended her appearance at the Palin rally. She said she addressed Carson City Democrats two weeks before it and she accepts all invitations to speak.
“These opportunities to address supporters are precious,” Pickering said. “It’s difficult to avoid attending partisan gatherings.”
In her address at the Sept. 13 rally, Pickering said it was an honor to be part of Nevada’s welcome to Palin.
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“A Westerner. A woman. A person chosen not because of who she knows, but because of what she stands for and her courage,” she told the crowd.
She went on to talk about the role of the courts and said the McCain-Palin ticket “understands these principles and why they matter.”
“John McCain said a few years ago that our judges should be people who are humbled by their role in our system, not emboldened by it,” Pickering told the crowd.
On Wednesday, Pickering defended her praise of McCain’s judicial voting record at the rally. And she criticized Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s votes against U.S. Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, both appointees of President Bush.
Schumacher, who addressed the state Democratic convention earlier this year, said she also tried to speak at the Republican convention but was turned down because their bylaws do not allow a non-GOP candidate.
Cynthia Gray, director of the Center for Judicial Ethics of the American Judicature Society based in Chicago, declined to comment specifically on the controversy.
But she said the Nevada code of judicial conduct prohibits a judge or judicial candidate from publicly endorsing another candidate for public office and permits them to speak to political gatherings only on their own behalf.
William Dressel, president of the National Judicial College in Reno, said it would be inappropriate for him to give an opinion on the matter.
He said the American Bar Association last year came out with judicial conduct recommendations, including one that prohibits judicial candidates from publicly endorsing or opposing a candidate for public office.
“We know both candidates have appeared before political functions,” Dressel told The Associated Press. “It’s what you say once you’re there that’s the issue in this story.”
Asked whether he thinks Pickering crossed the line with her comments at the Palin rally, Dressel replied, “I think that’s for your readers to decide. Does that in any way really impugn her impartiality?
“This is something that needs to be looked at in the court of public opinion. Did the activity of either one really impugn the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary?” he added.
The two candidates are vying for an open seat on the Supreme Court.