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Michelle MacDonald and Judge Galen Vaa
Michelle MacDonald and Judge Galen Vaa

Constitutional challenges to entry and exit of judges fail

Sept. 11 was not a good day at the Court of Appeals for judges and would-be judges.

Michelle MacDonald lost her challenge to an election law violation. In 2016, the Republican Party’s judicial-election committee voted to recommend MacDonald’s endorsement for a spot on the Minnesota Supreme Court to the entire party, but the party didn’t endorse her. A voter guide in the newspaper said she was endorsed by the GOP’s Judicial Selection Committee 2016, which was determined to violate Minn. Stat. sec. 211B.02 as a false claim of support or endorsement.

MacDonald challenged the constitutionality of Section 211B.02, alleging that her First Amendment rights were implicated. She argued that the statute is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest because it is overbroad, but the court rejected that argument because the law is aimed at false claims of support. The court also rejected MacDonald’s contention that the statute prohibits a candidate from truthfully reporting receipt of a party sub-unit’s endorsement. But the OAH determined that she claimed that the committee endorsed her when it had not and had no authority to do so. It also determined that there were no less-restrictive ways to protect the state’s compelling interest in the accuracy of the political process.

And Judge Galen Vaa lost his challenge to the constitutional provision mandating that judges retire at age 70. The court relied on the 1985 Supreme Court opinion in Saetre v. State and the 1990 Court of Appeals opinion in Weis v. State and rejected the argument that those cases were strictly limited to the provision of benefits. It rejected Vaa’s arguments that Saetre and Weis did not apply and the Minnesota Constitution’s judicial retirement clause, Article VI, Section 9, conflicts with the term-of-office clause, Article VI, Section 7 and the elective-franchise clause, Article VII, Section 6.

Instead, it found that it was bound by stare decisis to adhere to Saetre and Weis.

“We commend Judge Vaa for his service to the State of Minnesota and his desire to continue to serve beyond the age of 70. However, both the Legislature and the Minnesota Supreme Court have clearly and unequivocally spoken on this issue,” the court concluded.

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