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Group renews push to change how judges are elected

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Group pushes judicial amendment
Former MN Supreme Court Justice Eric Magnuson speaks on behalf of a constitutional amendment to change how judges are elected (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

A coalition of former judges, business groups and labor unions is renewing its call to change the election process for judges.

The group known as the Coalition for Impartial Justice is urging the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would shift the way voters choose judges. The current system requires judges to run for re-election after being appointed by the governor. The coalition's plan wouldn't allow other candidates to run. Instead it would it would ask voters only to decide whether or not to retain the judge.

Former Chief Justice Eric Magnuson said he's worried Minnesota could follow other states that have seen millions spent on contested judicial elections.

“The time to fix your roof is not when it’s raining hard,” Magnuson said. “It’s when the sun is shining. We need to get ahead of this. We need to make sure that the public has confidence in our justice system."

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he’s hesitant to put the measure on the ballot this year because he believes voters are tired of ballot initiatives. He said groups backing the measure need to show that it has support from a large number of legislators from both parties.

"It would not be a slam dunk that it's going to get done this year. That’s for sure.” Thissen said. “In fact, I think the burden is on the coalition to make the case that this is a good government amendment that the people of Minnesota want.”

Opponents of the measure say they think Minnesotans should have the right to vote for the people they want to be judges, not just against those whom they don't.