Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Quie Commission 

Yesterday I completed another leg of my Speaking Truth to Power tour. I spoke to the Quie Commission on Judicial Impartiality. The Commission was formed in response to the Republican Party of Minnesota v. White court case. The White case held, through various twists and turns, that if Minnesota chooses to elect its judges, it cannot prevent challengers from raising money, speaking about issues, or mentioning the fact that they were endorsed by a political party (the ballot does not mention party affiliation).

My comments made it into the Associated Press story.

Mostly, those who testified at the first of the commission's three public hearings shared the panel's concerns about where Minnesota's judicial elections could be heading. But several called for keeping some form of elections so the public can hold judges accountable.

Among the ideas that have been floated in the aftermath of the White decisions are either a system where judges are simply appointed and don't face the voters, or one like Missouri's where judges are first appointed, and then voters periodically choose whether to keep them or fire them.

Peter Swanson, a local attorney, argued for the Missouri system. He said it's not perfect, but a major weakness with the state's current system is that it requires a challenger to come forward and challenge a sitting judge.

"Who wants to end up risking their career?" he asked.

I talked about other things and threw in a few zingers, too. Hopefully I did not provide an answer to my own rhetorical question yesterday.

I used up my full five minutes and even got in a couple sentences extra. Most of the other speakers told a little bit about themselves: "I've been practicing law for X years." Many of them felt obligated, after mentioning their various affiliations, to explain that their comments did not reflect the opinions of this group or that. I was trying to get my speech down to five minutes, so I just said that I was a local attorney. And that's what the reporter printed. Next time I will describe myself as a super-cool dude.