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State should appoint judges to lifetime roles

March 29, 2012
Gary Andersen, Lee Smith , Fairmont Sentinel

When it comes to judicial elections, Minnesota is shooting itself in the foot. A federal appeals court case this week reveals this sad fact.

Minnesota imposes restrictions on fund-raising and endorsements by judicial candidates. A federal appeals court said those rules are unconstitutional limits on free speech (they are), but this week a higher federal appeals court said the limits can stand, because Minnesota has "a compelling interest in preserving not only judicial impartiality but also the appearance of it." Those who oppose the latest ruling plan to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court.

We don't know what the outcome will be, but if Minnesota is so interested in judicial impartiality, why in the world does it hold judicial elections? Judges ought to be appointed for life so that they are entirely removed from the political process. No decision a judge renders should ever result in his or her removal via politics.

Some people don't like this because it means the lifetime appointment of "liberal" or "conservative" judges. But the governor appoints judges, so if you want to win this argument, get your candidate for governor elected. That's the role for politics.

As for actually removing a judge from office, there is the process of impeachment, giving the Legislature the opportunity to "fire" judges who have perhaps committed crimes or otherwise acted unethically.

Minnesota's judicial elections and the accompanying rules have been subjects of court cases for a decade or more. It's beyond time to change the system and resolve this matter once and for all.



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