A split three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this morning issued an opinion sweeping away a couple of the state’s remaining restrictions on judicial campaigns.
The federal appellate court struck down rules barring judicial candidates from endorsing candidates for political offices and from personally soliciting contributions from small groups and individuals.
“[W]e think the Constitution favors strict recusal standards and fewer speech restrictions,” wrote Clarence Arlen Beam for the two-judge majority.
In his dissent, Judge Kermit E. Bye, said, “[W]here a state has crafted its restrictions carefully to maintain a fair and impartial judiciary, in both practice and appearance, as Minnesota has done here, the First Amendment must yield.”
The 54-page decision is Wersal v. Sexton, et al.
The ruling is a huge victory for attorney Greg Wersal, currently running for a seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court against Justice Helen Meyer. Wersal has been on a more than a decade-long quest to end the restrictions Minnesota has placed on judicial campaigns that has taken him on several tips to the 8th Circuit and all the way to U.S. Supreme Court. His challenges have eviscerated the framework for the vast majority of the restrictions.
In a release sent shortly after the ruling was announced, Wersal trumpeted, “This is a major victory toward the goal of holding judges accountable through free, open and competitive elections. I now hope to raise the money necessary to tell the people of Minnesota that the judges, including my opponent in this race, want a constitutional amendment that would strip the public of their right to vote for judges. I will do everything I can to protect the right to vote.”
Proponents of the restrictions had argued that they were necessary to preserve the appearance of an unbiased and unbeholden judiciary.
We will post a fuller story on our main site later today.