Thursday, March 16, 2006

Entenza stretching

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:19 AM |  

From the Star Tribune article on Dean Johnson’s remarks compromising the state Supreme Court.
House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, pointed out that because of a court case brought in 2002 by Republicans, judicial candidates can comment on legal issues, including those that might come before them.

"Under the new rules for judges that the Republican Party won, judges can comment on cases, even before they come up," he said. "Ironically, because of this new standard, there appears to be no infraction by anyone."
You’d think after a while politicians would learn that when you’re in a hole, stop digging.

Entenza is certainly justified in bringing up the U.S. Supreme Court and 8th Circuit Court decisions essentially allowing judges in a campaign to state their views on issues, run with political endorsement and collect campaign contributions. The decisions in these cases are going to have ramifications on the way Minnesotans select judges and their perception of the legal system. It’s the proper “Chapter Two” of the Johnson story, and a column I’ve been researching for next week or the week following.

However, raising the issue as a defense of Johnson’s remarks is just plain silly if not disingenuous. As the Strib article correctly notes, speaking on an issue as allowed under the new rules is far different than a sitting judge commenting on a case that may come before her. Instead of sticking to the integrity of the Court issue, Entenza simply dismisses it. Thanks to Republicans, ethics no longer matter?

Briefly, while I don’t like the new “freedoms” in judicial elections and believe that they will compromise the judicial system, there is very good rationale for them. If the people are going to elect judges, then voters need access to information about candidates. That’s simplistic, but essentially true. The question becomes, can that objective be realized without compromising the judiciary? Are there reasonable alternatives that accomplish the same goal?

Using judicial election rules as a defense of Johnson, Entenza is reaching.