MURRAY — Whitney Westerfield has served nearly seven years as a state senator in the Kentucky General Assembly, but he is looking to make a dramatic change politically.
Tuesday, the Hopkinsville resident was in Murray as a candidate for a seat on the commonwealth’s highest court, the Kentucky Supreme Court. He and his opponent, current Court of Appeals Judge Shea Nickell of Paducah, are seeking the seat once held by longtime Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham of Kuttawa, a seat currently occupied on an interim basis by Murray judicial veteran David Buckingham.
“It’s completely different. This role is completely different from what I’ve been doing in the state legislature and that was a big part of the decision that (wife) Amanda and I discussed before I got in the race as whether I’d be ready to make that shift,” said Westerfield, who has served as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee since he was elected in 2012. He also has practiced law since 2006, though he has never been a judge.
“It’s an opportunity for someone to do some important work and we need somebody right now to do that important work,” he said. “I learned that the seat was open probably when everybody else did, which was when it was learned that Justice Cunningham had decided to retire( which he did early this year after 12 years on the bench). Once I had time on my hands and I was not campaigning for anything else and not talking about anything else, and once Amanda and I had the chance to talk about it and pray about it, we decided that the timing was right.”
Westerfield is not having to vacate his 3rd District state senate seat in order to enter this race, which he said also was a factor in his decision to run.
“I’m able to run without it affecting my legislative work. We’re not in session and, with the election being this year, it’s a shorter campaign cycle,” he said. “Plus, it’s 24 counties, not 120 and I’ll admit, it’s been nice to always be able to come back home at the end of a campaign day to my wife and our two small children.”
However, Westerfield said the top issue for him being a justice is to interpret the laws of the commonwealth, not make new policy, which he said has been happening too much in the past with the Supreme Court. He also pledged to do this in spite of the fact that he is a staunch member of the Republican Party.
He and Nickell are involved in a non-partisan race.
“We need someone that will apply the law dispassionately, without prejudice, without an agenda,” he said, citing former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. “Scalia believed in the courts the same way I do. In his book ‘Scalia Speaks,’ he says that it is perfectly reasonable for people to allow lawyers to decide what the law means, but lawyers should not decide what the law ought to say. That is for the people.
“I’m a Republican. Everybody knows I’m a Republican, but philosophically, you uphold the law and the Constitution and the statutes that we have, and that is it. Sure, sometimes, it might be difficult (to put his GOP loyalty to the side), but that’s what this job calls for. If you’re not prepared to do that, you shouldn’t run. In fact, I was talking to somebody (Tuesday morning) and I told him that there are a handful of policy issues that, as a legislator, I’m staunchly opposed to, but as a justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, I have no choice but to uphold them.
“It’s what you must do.”