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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Magnuson's appointment could call selection process into question

It’s ironic that Minnesota’s outgoing Supreme Court justice, Russell Anderson, has been so outspoken about his fears that an open election process would politicize the process of choosing judges when one considers how the process of choosing his replacement contains the potential to suggest political expediency, if not outright cronyism.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty goes back years with new chief justice Eric Magnuson; the two practiced together at Rider Bennett, worked together on Pawlenty’s gubernatorial campaigns, and by most accounts are good friends. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with knowing the person you’re appointing to such a crucial position.

At the press conference to announce Magnuson’s appointment, Pawlenty, when asked about this issue, said, “Eric is intimately familiar with the court, so that doesn’t concern me.”

Fair enough. But what’s that old saying about even the appearance of impropriety being improper?

Unilaterally hoisting a longtime colleague with no experience on the bench directly to the high court’s top spot looks, at least to a lay observer, a little too convenient -- especially when the appointee was previously in charge of screening judicial candidates for the governor. Throw in the fact that Magnuson is Pawlenty’s fourth appointee to the high court, officially making it “his” court, and it’s hard to refrain from indulging in a bit of skepticism about the appointment process.

Magnuson’s credentials might be sound, but Minnesotans deserve some assurance that he was given the job based on his credentials alone, not his connections. It might be time for a formal screening process to accompany all high-level judicial appointments in Minnesota. Having the top candidates vetted by an independent commission -- even an ad hoc one for special cases like this -- would help lend some needed transparency to the process.

Magnuson comes across as remarkably informed and articulate on court-related topics. He’ll probably do a fine job. It’s too bad that the circumstances of his appointment seem perfectly aligned to invite scrutiny, deserved or otherwise.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps Mr. Pawlenty is in training for his prospective term as VP to McBush.

Where else are there so many appointments tainted with cronyism?

It is a bad sign for this democracy when who you know is so obviously more important than experience.

The appointment of young "true believers" will be a long-lasting legacy.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how many "former law partners" Pawlenty has appointed during his administration? Scary.