There's a fight over how we decide who can be a judge in Minnesota, and it's being fought out this week in front of the Supreme Court and on the floor of the legislature.
The state constitution says judges are supposed to be elected every six years, but in recent years, most supreme court justices have stepped down before their terms are up, allowing the governor to appoint their replacements.
On Tuesday attorney Jill Clark argued to the supreme court that justices have essentially conspired to keep the selection of their replacement in the hands of the Governor and away from voters. Clark says the court should order an election for the replacement of Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, who is stepping down in June. Magnuson and the other justices appointed by Gov. Pawlenty recused themselves from the case.
Clark represents Greg Wersal, the Apple Valley lawyer who wants to run for Magnuson's seat on the Republican ticket. Wersal has long been a thorn in the side of the judicial establishment: when he last ran for a spot on the court, he sued the state's Board of Judicial Elections, claiming that the rules forbidding him to discuss political issues as a judicial candidate violated his First Amendment rights. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 2002 that Minnesota can't stop aspiring judges from taking political stands on the campaign trail. The ruling shocked the state's judicial establishment, which feared it would politicize the judiciary.
Meanwhile, DFL Rep. Steve Simon of St. Louis Park is pushing the other way. He's sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would let voters throw judges out, but would put the power to replace them squarely with the governor.