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John Yoder: It shouldn't be Supreme Court of Charleston

Oct. 07, 2012 @ 12:18 AM

Are you aware that four out of five of the Justices on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals are from Charleston? The one exception is Chief Justice Ketchum from Huntington, and it took Huntington 40 years to get a justice on the Supreme Court.

Charleston makes up less than 3 percent of West Virginia's population, but it has 80 percent of the geographic representation on the Supreme Court. Doesn't the rest of West Virginia deserve some geographic representation on the court, too?

Right now, however, three of the four candidates running for the two open Supreme Court seats are also from Charleston. I am the only candidate who is not from Charleston.

What difference does it make, you may ask, if every justice follows the law, as they should? In theory, it should not matter, but every justice brings his or her experience and background to the bench to help reach the best decisions. As much as every good justice strives to be neutral and put bias aside, every justice views the law from a different lens. Not everyone agrees on what the law is, or we would not have so many 5-to-4 decisions at the U.S. Supreme Court.

That is why we need diversity in areas such as religion or educational expertise. It would not be good to have all Catholics or all Protestants on the court, even though both have high moral values and would seek to uphold the rule of law.

In elected offices, we recognize that geographic location makes a big difference. That is why we have Senate and House districts spread around the whole state, rather than electing all our representatives from Charleston. When it comes to county commissioners, we recognize that even different areas of a county deserve different geographical representation, requiring that commissioners be elected from different areas of the county. Basic fairness demands some geographic diversity.

One big difference between the 3 percent of the state's population living in Charleston, and the majority of the State, is that 55 percent of the state's population lives within five miles of a border state. Huntington, Wheeling, Bluefield, Parkersburg, Morgantown and Martinsburg, where I work, are all near border states. Residents of those areas are personally aware of the economic competition from neighboring states.

As those of us who live in border areas know, competition from surrounding states impacts our jobs in West Virginia. When prices are cheaper in neighboring states due to lower taxes and less regulation, West Virginia citizens cross the border to shop and spend in other states, giving those states the jobs from those businesses as well as the tax revenue from those businesses and spending.

When a neighboring state has a better legal climate for businesses, businesses locate and invest in those neighboring states and create jobs there, rather than in West Virginia. A very recent survey of business leaders across the nation indicates that 7 out of 10 business leaders say that the legal climate is a "significant factor" in determining where their businesses should expand and grow.

Unfortunately, in that same survey, by the U.S. Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform, West Virginia has been rated for the fifth consecutive time as having the worst lawsuit climate in the nation. That's right, in terms of legal climate, West Virginia ranks dead last, 50 out of 50.

One of the major reasons given for West Virginia's poor legal reputation is the lack of an intermediate court of appeals, where citizens and companies can automatically appeal adverse decisions of circuit courts. West Virginia is one of only two states in the nation without an intermediate court of appeals. I favor the creation of an intermediate court of appeals, with geographical divisions.

Yes, there have been some more recent improvements, but not enough. With my extensive experience as a circuit judge, as a Supreme Court Fellow at the U.S. Supreme Court, as a Reagan appointee at the U.S. Department of Justice, and as a state senator, I will seek to make our court system one we West Virginians can be proud of, rather than one that is held in low esteem across the nation.

John Yoder, of Harpers Ferry, is a Republican candidate for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

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