In order to be a judicial candidate, you have to be careful not to violate the judical ethics rules as you campaign. For instance, you can't come out and say, "If you elect me, I will vote for the working people of this state every chance I get." Canon 5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that a judicial candidate shall not "make statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court." (emphasis added). Talking about current cases is clearly off-limits, but discussions of ideologies is more of a gray area.
There is no doubt that Justice McGraw is a formidable politician. These recent articles in the Charleston Gazette and Charleston Daily Mail prove this out. According to the articles, Justice McGraw is defining his candidacy by talking about who is out to get him. He claims that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (read "big business") has put a $50 million bounty out for his political extermination. (This might be an exaggeration, according to the Daily Mail article.) He leaves it up to the listener to make the leap that if "big business" does not like him, he must be looking out for the working people. Does this violate Canon 5? Probably not, but the spirit of the Canon is to keep judges talking about being "fair and impartial" and not on one side or another.
Indirect comments like these two from Justice McGraw are little more troubling to me:
(1) "I do have a judicial philosophy ... It comes from some of my life experiences. I grew up in a community where I watched working people struggle."
(2) After discussing how he left his home in southern West Virginia to go to Cleveland to become a steelworker only to be laid off when the industry started to tank, McGraw said "I rode a long and lonely bus back to West Virginia. I swore to do everything in my power so no child would have to face what I did," he said.
How are comments like these supposed to be interpreted? Is Justice McGraw saying, "If elected, I will do everything within my power to help working people?" Not in so many words, but comments like these certainly can be taken to mean just that. As a lawyer and a voter, it turns me off and makes me wonder why we make judges campaign for the State Supreme Court in the first place. We're just setting ourselves up for political discourse like this. The only way to keep politics out of the judical system is to keep politicians out of the judicial system.