Editorial: Letting judges talk makes the most sense

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 28, 2002

There are risks involved with letting judges speak their minds. There is the risk that judicial elections will turn partisan. There is the risk that these elections will become more like the mud-slinging affairs we’re used to in the legislative and executive branches.

But not allowing judges to speak renders the elections practically meaningless. Voters &045; unless they’re lawyers themselves or work at the courthouse &045; probably have no idea why they should choose one candidate or another. It defeats the purpose of even having an election.

There is no perfect solution. There are drawbacks either way. In giving judges and judicial candidates the right to talk about their stances on issues, the U.S. Supreme Court chose the path that has a chance to inject new purpose into judicial elections.

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Minnesota is one of nine states that had banned would-be judges from announcing views on disputed legal or political issues. The law came under challenge for many years by Greg Wersal, a three time candidate for state Supreme Court, who wanted to be able to tell voters why they should choose him.

Honestly, without the ability to learn much about the candidates, or to know where incumbents stand, voters have no right even voting. Many of them end up making an arbitrary decision. If that’s the case, Minnesota is better off having people who understand law appointing judges rather than having them elected. But if the state feels voters need the power to choose their own judges, it makes sense that they should get enough information to do it right.