by Paul Demko
A proposal to replace contested judicial contests with so-called retention elections has been introduced in the House. Rep. Michael Beard, R-Shakopee, is the lead sponsor of the measure, which would put the proposed amendment to the state’s constitution on the ballot.
“This is an issue that I think a lot of us can get our imaginations around,” Beard tells PIM. “We don’t want to end up with multi-million dollar judicial races with people who are potential plaintiffs and people who are potential defendants on either side supporting a judge they think might rule favorably. That would be a perversion of justice.”
A similar proposal was introduced by DFLers during the 2010 legislative session, but stalled out in committee. The potential constitutional amendment was strongly opposed by some conservative interest groups, most notably Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), the state’s foremost anti-abortion advocacy group. Beard’s bill has six Republican co-sponsors, including Reps. Joe Hoppe (Chaska), Jenifer Loon (Eden Prairie), and Pat Mazorol (Bloomington).
Beard says he’s not worried about upsetting the MCCL. “They’re my friends. I’m with them on most issues,” he said. “This isn’t about abortion or when life begins, which are very important issues. This is about how we keep our judiciary as fair and unbiased as possible.”
The exact details of Beard’s bill aren’t yet available. But under a retention election system, voters would simply decide whether judges should be permitted to continue serving in their post. If a judge is voted out of office, the governor would then appoint a replacement.
With just three weeks left in the legislative session, Beard doesn’t expect the proposal to make much progress this year. “I think we’re teeing this up for next year,” he said. “This isn’t going to be crammed through.”