Judicial Selection - A Minnesota Update
Anderson, Paul H., Anderson, G. Barry, Judicature
Minnesota has avoided much of the turmoil that has surfaced in several states - including our neighbors, Wisconsin and Iowa - around the selection and retention of judges. Here the key word is avoided, because we realize we are not immune from such problems. A frequent Minnesota refrain is that we are just one election away from being in the same boat as other states.
This realization has fueled efforts to change Minnesota's judicial selection process. Currently, the governor appoints judges who serve until they run in a nonpartisan election shortly after taking office. Trial court judges are chosen from a list of candidates referred to the governor by a legislatively created commission. Governors are not required to choose from this list but generally do. In the last two decades, governors have deviated from the recommended list on only two occasions. Appellate judges are not subject to the judicial selection commission, but recent governors have followed a similar process by appointing an ad hoc committee to recommend candidates for appointment.
In the wake of Republican Parly v. White, (546 U.S. 765) an independent citizens' commission composed of individuals with diverse backgrounds in law, politics, business, labor, and academics was created to review and make recommendations concerning judicial selection in Minnesota. This bipartisan/ non partisan corn-mission was established in February 2006 and was chaired by respected former Governor AJ Quie. In its March 2007 report, the Commission recommended that direct elections be abolished and replaced by merit selection and appointment by the governor, followed by a retention election. A nonpartisan judicial commission would review judges' performance and publish findings to assist voters in evaluatingjudges.
Following the release of the Commission's report, a new, nonpartisan group was formed to promote the Commission's recommendations. This group, The Coalition for Impartial Justice, has sought to amend Minnesota's Constitution in each of the last two legislative sessions and has two bills pending before the Legislature. The legislation, SF70, generally seeks to enact the Commission recommendations. While there has been widespread support for the Coalition's initiative, some opposition has emerged among conservative groups that believe the proposed change deprives citizens of the right to vote for judges. …