ST. PAUL (Feb. 26, 2014) — Former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justices Kathleen Blatz and Eric Magnuson were the key speakers at an event hosted Turesday by the Coalition for Impartial Justice, urging state legislators to pass the Impartial Justice Act in the 2014 session.
The Justices joined what has become an exceptionally wide-ranging alliance of groups calling for passage of the act as a necessary means of safeguarding the state’s justice system against the corrosive influences of money and partisan politics.
Other organizations represented at the event included the Minnesota State Bar Association, the Citizens League, the League of Women Voters, and the AFL-CIO.
“Bitterly partisan, high-dollar campaigns threaten the impartiality of our courts, undermine public confidence in the judiciary, and are more often than not focused on disparaging the candidates running rather than informing the voters on their qualifications,” said Justice Magnuson, noting that the Impartial Justice Act would ensure that no special interest group will be able to buy a seat on the bench by expanding merit selection to all judges in Minnesota.
The justices lamented the special interest spending and vitriolic attack ads that have hit the airwaves in other Midwestern states, including Wisconsin and Michigan.
Phil Duran, President of the Minnesota State Bar Association, further underscored the challenge.
“Once the first million dollar Supreme Court race comes to Minnesota, the genie will be out of the bottle and these elections will be here to stay,” said Duran.
Supporters of the act emphasize that not only are Minnesotans at risk of losing their courts to special interests and big money politics, they currently have little to no information about judges up for election and have no real power to hold judges accountable.
In addition to expanding merit selection, the Impartial Justice Act would empower voters with information through public performance evaluations of judges, and restore accountability by establishing retention elections.
Its advocates now encompass an unlikely coalition of nearly 40 organizations ranging from chambers of commerce to labor unions.
“Minnesotans of all stripes are coming together to support these important reforms to empower voters, restore accountability, and preserve fairness and impartiality in our judicial system,” said Coalition President Sarah Walker. “This issue is too important to wait another year. The Legislature must act in 2014 to pass the Impartial Justice Act and ensure that justice is not for sale in Minnesota.”
Jennifer Schaubach, Legislative Director of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, applauded the bipartisan nature of the groups working together.
“The Impartial Justice Act is an important example of how we can come together as Minnesotans to improve our government,” she said.
The Impartial Justice Act also has a wide range of support in the business community, including over 50 Minnesota businesses throughout the state including 3M, Wells Fargo, Marvin Windows, General Mills, Medtronic, Kemps, and Red Wing Shoes, to name a few. Minnesota civic groups have also rallied behind the Impartial Justice Act.
“While the threat of partisan, high-dollar judicial elections was reason enough to support the Impartial Justice Act, the proposal also addresses a major problem with our current judicial selection system – the lack of information available to voters regarding the performance of their judges,” said Sean Kershaw, executive director, Citizens League.
Susan Sheridan Tucker, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters, stated that the League of Women Voters has long been supportive and has hosted dozens of forums across the state.
“Even if Minnesotans did have information about their judges, they have lost their ability to hold judges accountable, because over 90 percent of Minnesota judges run for reelection unopposed. When judges run unopposed, voters don’t have a choice,” she said.
Advocates speaking for the Coalition for Impartial Justice expressed confidence that Minnesota voters would embrace the act. “If the legislature puts this issue before the voters, we are confident that it will be approved,” said Walker. “Minnesota voters will overwhelmingly support a proposal that not only empowers them with information about how their judges perform, but also gives them the power to do something about it.”
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 www.impartialcourts.org.