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Kentucky Supreme Court Candidates Spar, Make Election Pitches At Paducah Forum

Liam Niemeyer

  The two candidates in the nonpartisan 1st District Kentucky Supreme Court race made their case at a Paducah Chamber of Commerce forum on Thursday for why they should be elected as one of seven state Supreme Court justices. Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge Christopher Shea Nickell and Republican State Senator Whitney Westerfield sparred on why their experience better qualifies them for the seat.


Westerfield in his campaign has repeatedly said “liberal, activist courts” across the country and in Kentucky are “contorting” the law to legislate from the bench. He wants to bring more impartiality to the Court.


“I’d like to bring justices over to my side of upholding the law. But even if I fail in doing that, I’m still willing to stand alone in my dissent if I know the court has deviated from it’s duty to apply the law as it’s written,” Westerfield said. 


Westerfield accused Nickell of legislating from the bench. Nickell pushed back, pointing to his experience serving 13 years as an appellate judge for why he’s qualified to be a justice.


“It’s easy to attack the record of your opponent if you have none,” Nickell said. “Activist courts around the nation? There may be some, but I can tell you this -- the Kentucky Supreme Court is not one of them.”


Nickell said the Kentucky Supreme Court ruling last year that upheld the state’s “right-to-work” law is evidence of what could be considered a “conservative” ruling by the Court, refuting the argument that the Court is liberal. “I think they followed the law. It’s no comment on the legislature, or the governor or anything. We don’t look to that,” Nickell said.


Credit Liam Niemeyer / WKMS
Nickell and Westerfield on stage.

  Westerfield cited his experience serving in the state Senate Judiciary Committee and as an attorney as “frontline” experience in the justice system that he believes the Kentucky Supreme Court is currently lacking.


“We’ve got an abundance of justices on the court on the frontlines in the age of the iPhone or the iPad, much less have the practical experience and the present experience on the effect of their rulings on the court system,” Westerfield said. “Respectfully, I’m the only candidate that can bring that [experience].”


Nickell asked voters to disregard campaign rhetoric.“So I ask you to vote on the record and not on any rhetoric. You know who I am,” he said.


The general election is scheduled for November 5.


"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."