Elections

Didn’t these Supreme Court candidates already debate? Guide to the runoff election

Robyn Brody (left) and Curt McKenzie at an Idaho Public Television debate this spring.
Robyn Brody (left) and Curt McKenzie at an Idaho Public Television debate this spring. Associated Press file

Yes, you have voted for your next Idaho Supreme Court justice already this year. But you’ve got to do it once more this fall.

Curt McKenzie and Robyn Brody were the top two vote-getters in May in a four-way race for the seat of retiring Justice Jim Jones.

Normally, those races are decided in the spring. But since neither of them secured more than 50 percent of the vote, they’ve advanced to a runoff election Nov. 8 — the first time that’s happened since 1998.

McKenzie, 47, of Nampa, is an attorney and seven-term Republican state lawmaker who is leaving the Legislature to seek this seat.

“I’ve worked for the state as a prosecuting attorney. I’ve had major clients and cases where people didn’t have any money but I felt they had a just cause. I think that kind of experience is important,” McKenzie told the Statesman this spring, talking about his resume.

Curt McKenzie, candidate for Idaho Supreme Court, talks about why he is running and his opinions on cameras in the courtroom.

Brody, 46, has been an attorney for nearly 20 years in Twin Falls and, now, Rupert.

This spring, she said she would bring a different approach to the court, both as a woman and as someone who has extensive experience with rural Idaho.

“The thing I bring to the bench is a perspective of being connected to the people, being connected to the decisions that are being made. I haven’t spent a lifetime on the bench. I call it the view from the trench, not the bench,” Brody said before the primary. “I think it helps to have somebody who has actually been doing the work, to have the practitioner’s perspective.”

“I believe that I can bridge the gap between” rural and urban issues, she wrote in the Idaho Statesman’s voter guide.

Robyn Brody, candidate for Idaho Supreme Court, talks about why she is running and her opinions on cameras in the courtroom.

McKenzie has talked often about “applying the Constitution and constitutional statutes as they’re written,” citing the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as an influence. A possible fifth candidate in this spring’s race, Christ Troupis, withdrew before the May vote at a joint press conference with McKenzie, issuing a statement that “it became clear that conservatives need to come together behind a single candidate.” But McKenzie has said multiple times that impartiality is a vital characteristic of a judge.

“The next president could appoint two to four justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could fundamentally change how that court interprets the U.S. Constitution,” he wrote in the Statesman’s voter guide. “Here in Idaho, we the people of Idaho choose our next Idaho Supreme Court justice. Its just as important to have a textualist on our court.”

Twice this year, members of the Idaho State Bar have rated Brody much more favorably in surveys of the candidates’ integrity, temperament and professional abilities.

Both candidates have been involved in the Idaho Trial Lawyers Association. Brody was president of for one year; the organiation gave thousands of dollars to McKenzie’s legislative campaigns over a decade. McKenzie appears to be trying to distance himself from the group, according to the Spokesman-Review, which cited comments he made in a rebuttal to the Statesman editorial board’s endorsement of Brody, where he didn’t acknowledge that he had been a member for four years. McKenzie told the newspaper he had forgotten he was ever a member.

Both Brody and McKenzie say they believe they provide more than 50 hours of free or reduced-fee legal services each year, the amount suggested by Idaho’s rules of professional conduct. But neither of them actually tracks it — nor have they ever reported providing services to the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program, a group that tracks and recruits attorneys for pro bono work, the Associated Press reported. Jones, the retiring justice the winner will replace, is one of Idaho’s biggest champions of pro bono services.

Idaho’s court system is undergoing a massive shift to digital court records, including eventually the ability for users to view court documents over the internet. Both candidates say they support transparency in the courts, as long as technological changes don’t infringe on areas where privacy is still vital, such as juvenile cases. Brody also said the Supreme Court must keep in mind the additional resource and training challenges of rural, smaller counties.

Friday, McKenzie and Brody will debate live on Idaho Public Television, the statewide channel’s only televised debate this fall. The debate starts at 8 p.m. Mountain time on IPTV’s main Idaho channel.

The pair were also part of a Supreme Court debate on IPTV earlier this spring. You can watch that debate again at the Idaho Debate website.

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