Should judges be appointed instead of elected?

Minnesota voters would decide this fall whether they want to keep electing judges to office or change the system in an attempt to prevent partisan election campaigns for the juducial branch, if a bill headed for a vote in the Senate is approved.

SF 70, from Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall with the following wording:

"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to reaffirm the impartiality of the judiciary by providing that judges be appointed by the governor, with their continuation in office determined in a retention election after a public, nonpartisan evaluation of their performance by a judicial performance commission rather than be determined under the current system of contested elections?"

So, instead of having candidates for each judicial seat on the November ballot and choosing between them, as is now the case, adoption of this amendment would leave the initial choice of a judge to the governor, create an independent commission to review judicial performance on the bench, and then the appointed judges' names would appear on the ballot alone, with the question being whether they should be retained or not. (See Bipartisan coalition seeks to reform Minnesota judicial elections.)

The bill, which was introduced last year and hasn't had any hearings, is before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee Wednesday, a potential last stop before coming up for a floor vote.

Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, along with former chief justices Russell Anderson and Kathleen Blatz, former Gov. Al Quie and former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe testified on behalf of the House of Representatives' version of the amendment last month, saying that election contests in the judiciary with partisan backing, expensive advertising campaigns and politicization of judicial issues could be just around the corner in Minnesota.

Opponents, including Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Tony Sutton, said that only an election-based system keeps accountability in the hands of Minnesota voters.

The system would be the same for local district court trial judges, appeals court judges and even Minnesota Supreme Court justices.

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    Lawrence Schumacher's picture
    Lawrence Schumacher

    Lawrence Schumacher (lawrence [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net)  is a freelance journalist with 12+ years covering Minnesota communities, government, politics and elections.