Judicial politics

Minnesota’s constitution states that judges are to be elected, just like any other political officer. But in practice, judges in Minnesota usually attain the bench by appointment and rarely face much opposition in succeeding elections. Most are re-elected until they reach retirement age in mid-term. Then they resign and a successor is appointed, starting the process over again.

It is a system that works well. Judicial candidates undergo scrutiny by a knowledgable, non-partisan panel, which recommends three finalists to the governor, who interviews the finalists and almost always selects the judge from among the three.

There are those who want to make judicial selection the political process described in the constitution, with judicial candidates allowed to seek party endorsements, to debate issues and topics they may have to rule on. They have been backed up by high court rulings. There are others who would codify the current practice of appointments and are pushing for a constitutional amendment.

In other states where judges go through the same rough-and-tumble process as other political offices, voters have been subjected to mudslinging campaigns, and those appearing before a judge may have to hope their attorney has attended enough fundraisers for the judge who is deciding the case.

Minnesota has not had that kind of experience, though one is brewing with the Republican Party’s endorsed Supreme Court candidate, Michelle MacDonald. Republicans apparently failed to discover before the endorsement that MacDonald has been arrested in 2013 for resisting arrest charge and refusing to take a blood alcohol test after a traffice stop. The Republican Party has been distancing itself from MacDonald ever since, even refusing her access to the GOP booth at the Minnesota State Fair this week.

The DFL does not endorse judicial candidates.

People expect their judges to be impartial and objective arbiters, people who consider the law and the facts when making their decisions, not whether a particular decision will help or hurt their re-election chances, or whether the parties before them are political friends or foes.

We would prefer to see politics distanced from the judicial process.

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