Editorial: Makes judges accountableHas Minnesota’s system of judicial appointments effectively stolen voters’ rights to elect their own judges?
By: Daily Globe, Worthington Daily Globe
Has Minnesota’s system of judicial appointments effectively stolen voters’ rights to elect their own judges?
Greg Wersal thinks so, and he’s not afraid to express his opinion. Wersal, who visited the Daily Globe last week, is seeking a seat as an Associate Minnesota Supreme Court Justice in next month’s election. He also has been engaged since the mid-1990s in a fight he views as returning judicial elections back to the voters — and away from the control of the courts themselves.
Wersal has already won successful litigation in his fight. In 1998, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a new rule prohibiting judicial candidates “from stating their views on legal and political issues”; it also ruled such candidates were “prohibited from personally soliciting campaign funds.” Wersal challenged these rules — arguing they made it next to impossible for a challenger to defeat an incumbent judge — and ultimately won a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
In 2005, Wersal won another ruling when the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Minnesota laws that kept judicial candidates from seeking political party endorsements and personally soliciting campaign funds. But the Minnesota Supreme Court has persisted in making it remarkably difficult for any challenger. This past March, it came out with a ruling that Wersal said will allow “serialized resignations followed by appointment without limit” for its judges. “There may never again be an election for Chief Justice in Minnesota,” Wersal added.
Wersal’s goal is to give voters to opportunity to hold judges accountable through elections. Unfortunately, the way the system remains at this time is almost farcical — and, as a result, the average voter probably knows next to nothing about any judicial candidates. Here’s hoping Wersal continues to make an impact.