Keeping Special Interests out of the Courts!
Common Cause Minnesota is taking to the streets to fight for Impartial Courts.
In case you missed the article in the Fergus Falls Daily Journal detailing our campaign, Common Cause Minnesota and our coalition partners are heading to all parts of Minnesota to pass the Impartial Justice Act (IJA). We get asked a lot of questions out on the road, so we have put together this easy to understand Frequently Asked Questions for others who want to learn more about keeping our court system fair.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is the Impartial Justice Act?
A. The Impartial Justice Act, SF1082 / HF 1083, is a bill that will codify the merit selection of Minnesota judges and establish judicial retention elections and performance evaluations. It will give voters a greater voice when electing judges while keeping our judicial system and judges away from the influence of politics and money and focused on making fair and impartial decisions.
Q. Not to be too much of an urban snob, but why these smaller towns?
A. To change the way judges are selected in Minnesota, we will need to put the question on the ballot for a statewide vote, so public awareness is crucial. Even more importantly, Common Cause Minnesota strongly believes every voice in Minnesota needs to be heard to insure we have the best democracy possible, so we are taking this opportunity to travel throughout the state and talk to people about getting more involved in our state government.
Q. How is this merit selection different than the way judges are currently selected?
A. Almost all Minnesota judges are appointed by the Governor based on a merit selection; however, this is not mandatory, and compliance with this tradition is followed only at the discretion of the Governor. Because our Governors usually practice merit selection, Minnesota's judiciary system is nationally ranked high in terms of competence, impartiality and fairness. The Impartial Justice Act will codify the merit selection for the entire judiciary, eliminating the risk of future abuse and making sure that we maintain our high rankings and that special interest groups have no influence on our courts.
Q. Did I see you guys driving down Hwy 94 with your cell phone cameras hanging out the window?
That was us! Follow us on Twitter (@commoncausemn) and check out our Vine videos we made of our recent trip to Fergus Falls, Moorhead, Fargo and St. Cloud.
Q. How would the public performance evaluation commission work?
A. The Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission will consist of equal representatives from all three branches of state government, including a majority membership of non-attorneys as well as both majority and minority parties represented in the state legislature. The Commission will be tasked with releasing a public performance evaluation of each judge on the bench. This evaluation will give voters the information they need to decide whether their judge is acting impartially, making them more accountable to the public when they come up for retention. Nationally, 92% of voters supported a voters' guide like IJA's public performance evaluation.
Q. What are retention elections?
A. A retention election differs from a regular judicial election in that voters are not asked to choose from a list of candidates "� the judges on the ballot do not have opponents. Rather, the voter chooses between electing the incumbent judge to a further term in office (i.e. voting in favor of "retention") or voting against. Retention elections give voters the ability to decide whether or not to keep a judge in their position or vote them out with a majority vote. Right now, roughly 90% of Minnesota judges run unopposed and of the roughly 10% who are challenged, very few are ever defeated. Retention elections correct this imbalance and give voters a real ability to keep a check on their judges.
Q. Would this Act take away people's right to vote for judges?
A. No. The Impartial Justice Act will give voters a greater voice when voting to keep a judge at the bench or not. About 90% of judges currently face no public accountability. The Impartial Justice Act would require every sitting judge to be held accountable to the voters 100% of the time.
Q. How will a public performance evaluation help a judge who is attacked by special interest groups?
A. The public performance evaluation is a nonpartisan report. Judges can point to their evaluations to show voters their impartiality.
Q. How does the Act keep the money out of politics?
A. The Impartial Justice Act does not keep money out of politics per se due to the Citizens United ruling but it does prevent special interest groups from influencing the election of our judges. Through the Impartial Justice Act's merit selection process, special interest groups are prevented from picking their own candidate to replace the ousted judge. Without assurances that the next qualified judge will review the case in their favor, special interest groups will be deterred from spending resources to unseat a judge.
Q. This seems awesome, how can I help out?
A. First, you can sign our petition at http://www.commoncause.org/mn/ijpetition. By signing up, we will give you updates on the campaign. Next, drop us a line at (612) 605-7978 and let us know you want to get involved!
Office: Common Cause Minnesota