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Thursday, July 5, 2007

A tale of two approaches to judicial elections

Minnesota Lawyer will be running a story next week on the Minnesota State Bar Association's recent resolution endorsing a change in the current system for selecting judges in Minnesota.

Many are concerned that the politicized judicial races experienced by a number of other states will soon arrive in Minnesota. To head of this perceived threat to judicial independence, some are proposing that we amend our constitution to modify, or even discard, judicial elections.

The two main competing schools of thought involve either switching to retention elections, or getting rid of judicial elections altogether and establishing an appointment-based system.

So which of the approaches did the MSBA vote to endorse at its annual convention? Errr ..., well both, actually.

While the MSBA's resolution expresses a preference for the appointment-based model, it goes on to state that the bar group is also in favor of a retention-election system.

It reminds me of that Cheers episode where Frasier is reading the gang at the bar Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities in order to educate them. Needless to say the experiment does not go well.

Frasier: "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."
Norm: Wait, whoa, whoa, whoa. Which was it? ...
Cliff: Boy this Dickens character sure liked to cover all bases, didn't he?"

Now I do not really blame the MSBA for "covering all bases," as it did. Proponents of change find themselves in a quandary. On the one hand, most of them would like Minnesota to adopt the appointment-based approach. But on the other hand, it seems unlikely that a constitutional amendment jettisoning the peoples' right to vote on judges would actually pass. In politics, practicality is often king.

Check out next week's Minnesota Lawyer for more details about the MSBA debate and vote.


Anonymous said...

And somehow the selection process for federal judges is not political, seems as if the supreme court is tailored to the current presidential leanings. I suspect that unless a new class of cloistered monks/nuns is in charge of the process it will be political and frankly letting the voters call the shots is at least open and public. Ray Schmitz Rochester

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear. Elections of any sort are preferable to a system where departing judges carefully resign before their terms are up, thus allowing the governor (read: the state bar) to appoint a successor (read: an incumbent). In fact, picking names out of a hat would be preferable.