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Rochester community gathers to learn about serious threats to Minnesota’s Judiciary


Fri, Oct 4th, 2013
Posted in All Government

ROCHESTER, Minn. - Minnesotans have little to no information about judges up for election; have no real power to hold judges accountable; and are at risk of losing courts to special interests and big money politics. Seeing this problem a coalition of 35 organizations ranging from Chambers of Commerce to Labor Unions have united around a solution. Their proposal, the Impartial Justice Act, was the topic of an educational forum at the University of Minnesota Rochester on Tuesday, October 1.

The forum panelists included former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, Rochester Chamber of Commerce President John Wade, and Coalition for Impartial Justice President Sarah Walker. Walker outlined the three main components of the Impartial Justice Act. She stated, “The Impartial Justice Act would empower voters with non-partisan information about the performances of judges; restore accountability through retention elections ensuring voters have a meaningful vote for judge every time they enter the ballot box, and expand merit selection to all judges to ensure no special interest can buy a seat on our courts.”

Walker noted that “Minnesotan’s have little to no information on how judges perform and absolutely no access to an objective review of their job.” The Impartial Justice Act would require that judges be evaluated by a non-partisan commission appointed by representatives of all three branches of government, the majority of whom will be non-attorneys and that evaluations will be made available to the public.

Chief Justice Magnuson explained that, “Over 90 percent of judges run unopposed in Minnesota. When judges run unopposed, voters don’t have a choice.” The Impartial Justice Act would ensure that voters have a meaningful vote every time they enter the ballot box. The choice to retain or replace a judge will always be decided by Minnesota voters. Wade pointed out that, “Protecting our court system is a critical business climate issue for Minnesota’s job creators, large and small. It is absolutely essential that the legislature act now to let Minnesota voters decide on this serious issue.”

The risk of partisan high-dollar judicial elections is looming over Minnesota. Walker pointed to the tidal wave of increasing campaign contributions and special interest money that is rapidly flooding into judicial races all across the country. She cited several specific examples of this stating, “Our neighboring states of Illinois and Wisconsin have seen their judicial elections turn into multi-million dollar races that are largely funded by special interest groups. Expanding Merit Selection to all judges throughout the state will ensure that judges are chosen based on their qualifications and not partisan politics or their ability to fundraise.”

This unique educational forum was put together by an intriguing group of organizations that typically do not find themselves working on the same side of issues. Statewide hosts for this forum included: The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, MN AFL-CIO, Citizens League, Council on Crime and Justice, Committee for Economic Development, Common Cause MN, Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, League of Women Voters, Minnesota Community Action Partnership, Minnesota Council of Non Profits, and the Minnesota State Bar Association.

The forum was also heavily supported by several local hosts with long-standing ties in the Greater Rochester community, which included: The Olmsted County Bar Association, Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, Rochester League of Women Voters, Southeast Area Labor Council, Three Rivers Community Action, and UMR Connects.

About the Coalition for Impartial Justice (CIJ): CIJ is a non-partisan coalition that advocates for the passage of the Impartial Justice Act. The Impartial Justice Act will restore accountability and ensure fairness in our courts and the election of judges. To learn more about the forums or The Coalition for Impartial Justice please visit http://www.impartiaicourts.org/.

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