A candidate for Mobile County Circuit Court judge described two landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions “legislating from the bench” in front of a crowd at a political forum in Semmes Tuesday evening.
Harry Satterwhite, who told the crowd he was the “most conservative” candidate running for Place 6 on the bench, said he believes case law didn’t support the SCOTUS decisions in Roe v. Wade — which outlined women’s legal right to abortion — and Obergefell v. Hodges — which struck down laws banning same-sex marriage across the country.
“The supreme court legislated that … and it’s wrong,” he said. “They should never have done that.”
When asked a pre-submitted question about legislating from the bench, other candidates, including Republicans Buzz Jordan, Brandy Hambright, and Barney March as well as Democrat Karlos Finley said judges have to uphold the rule of law.
The candidates also defended the number of jurors chosen for each case and the process by which they are chosen.
“Twelve is a great number,” Jordan, a Mobile attorney, said. “It’s a great way to decide if someone is guilty or (not guilty).”
Finley, a Mobile municipal judge, said the jury system is fair and if there are ways to make it “more fair,” that’s up to the legislature.
Satterwhite said he’d like a better way to choose jurors than by using driver’s license information.
The judicial candidates probably gave their most diverse responses when asked about the state’s problem with prison overcrowding.
Hambright told the crowd that a Circuit Court judge is required to follow the law and acknowledged that violent crime is a problem in Mobile County.
“Following the law is the only thing we can do,” she said.
Jordan said the issue comes down to prioritizing who goes to prison. He said there should be more of an emphasis on violent crimes.
“I don’t want to send addicts to prison,” Jordan said. “Their only crime is being addicted to marijuana or opioids. They don’t need to be taking up prison space.”
There are two elements to crime, circumstances and choices, according to March, who is an attorney in Mobile as well.
“A lot of people have bad circumstances and we need to foster programs to help them,” he added. “But, If someone makes a bad choice they should pay the consequences for it.”
Finley said the problem with prison overcrowding is the crime being committed. He said it’s important to be “tough on crime” but also to offer resources that provide alternatives to jail for some offenders.
The forum, held just weeks ahead of the June 5 primary elections, also featured candidates from other races that affect Mobile County. The three candidates in House District 102 race — Republicans Willie Gray, Shane Stringer and Belinda Shoub — were also asked a series of questions about their respective platforms.
Gray, who is the co-owner and publisher of the Call News in Citronelle, said while in office he’d focus on education, infrastructure and economic development.
Shoub, a Penelope House board member, said she’d focus on education, infrastructure and growth.
Stringer, who is the police chief in Citronelle, told the crowd about a slightly different set of priorities. He said his goals while in office would be infrastructure, public safety and especially school safety — something he’d like to focus on “before we have a problem.”
Stringer said his solution to the threat of school shootings is arming teachers.
Candidates also discussed solutions to homelessness and mental illness. Gray said he recognized that the two are linked in many cases and told the crowd he’d work to get patients the help they need and help to put many back in the workforce.
Like Gray, Shoub blamed the closing of Searcy Hospital in north Mobile County for making what was already a local problem worse. She mentioned greater enforcement measures for group homes as a possible solution to the dearth of local mental health services.
Many in law enforcement have raised concerns about the number of mentally ill individuals who wind up in local jails that often have few options for mental health treatment. Stringer said he’d work to get those people into facilities where they can actually get the help they need.
The crowd at the Semmes Recreation and Community Center also heard from candidates running in the primaries for Place 4 on the Mobile County District Court — a race Lagniappe profiled following a previous candidates’ debate.
The two GOP candidates for Mobile County Sheriff, incumbent Sam Cochran and challenger Charles Wyckoff, were also on hand to field questions about their platforms.