Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Politics, Partisanship, and Hysteria

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, has struck down restrictions on judicial campaign speech in Minnesota. Specifically, the rule that candidates seeking election to the bench could not speak to partisan groups, as distinguished from other interest groups, was deemed unconstitutional. Other restrictions, like barring the candidate from signing his own fundraising letter instead of having a surrogate do it, were also struck down.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Minnesota Supreme Court rule against candidates "announcing" their views on disputed legal issues. Because the Supremes have already spoken to this issue, this is probably the end of the line for judicial elections where the only information is whether or not a candidate is the incumbent.

There were several major problems with the rules. First, they did not prohibit speaking to non-partisan interest groups like the National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, business groups, or labor unions. Second, as I noted in a post just before the 2004 election, one could determine a judicial candidate's party affiliation from lists of supporters, or even lawn signs. Third, incumbents were perfectly free to express their views in their legal opinions, and even to criticize the party affiliation of their opponents.

The Star Tribune is shocked, shocked that there are politics involved in elections for judgeships. The headline, "Court lets politics into judge races," seems to indicate that they did not read the Eighth Circuit opinion.


Blogger Peter said...

Grand Forks Herald headline for the AP story is better than the Strib's.

Ruling gives judicial candidates more political leeway

August 03, 2005 9:01 AM  

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