This past week the continuing question of how judges get elected in Minnesota took another turn. For years, critics of the judicial election system - mostly lawyers who want to get elected themselves - have complained that the campaign rules imposed by the Minnesota judicial system inhibit free elections. Judges, according to the rules, could not seek endorsements from political parties, could not endorse others, and could not state their positions on issues that may come before them. Basically, they run on their qualifications and experience, and incumbent judges have been traditionally hard to unseat.
A couple of years ago one challenge to the system was successful - a federal appeals court panel said the rules violated free speech. This opened up the prospect of judicial elections turning into full-blown political races, with party endorsements, campaign fundraising and political promises galore.
Last week, the full 8th District U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the panel's ruling and said Minnesota's rules did serve Minnesota's special interest in maintaining an independent judiciary.
Minnesota's system of selecting judges has evolved in practice from the process spelled out in the state constitution. We think it works, providing Minnesota with well-qualified, independent and objective judges, and that it is time for the state to establish that process with a constitutional amendment on the selection of judges.