Court says judges must avoid appearance of biasby Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A former state Supreme Court chief justice says today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on judicial campaign contributions is good news for Minnesota's judicial system.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that elected judges must recuse themselves when a party in a case has made a major contribution to that judge's election campaign.
The ruling stemmed from the case of a West Virginia Court of Appeals justice, who declined to withdraw from a case where one of the parties contributed $3 million to his judicial campaign. The majority of the high court said due process required the judge to recuse himself from the case.
Former Minnesota Chief Justice Russell Anderson has led a project to keep politics out of the judicial selection process, after the U.S. Supreme Court freed judicial candidates to talk about legal and political issues that could come before them as judges.
Anderson says the ruling highlights a problem states are facing.
"Large campaign contributions towards judicial elections and the impact that that can have on the fairness and impartiality of the quality of judges," said Anderson.
Anderson convened a bipartisan committee headed by former Gov. Al Quie, known as the Quie Commission, which recommended a merit system for selecting judges in Minnesota. The commission also suggested that the public should not elect judges outright, only vote on whether to retain them in office.
A bill designed to change Minnesota's system from electing judges to this retention system failed during the most recent legislative session.