Thursday, March 16, 2006

MPR interview with Sen. Dean Johnson

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:17 PM |  

This time he knew he was being taped

The MPR site has an interview with Sen. Dean Johnson in which he characterizes the controversy around his remarks as “pure foolishness.” He says that Supreme Court justices visit the legislature all the time to talk about things related to operation of the Court; it was during one of those visits that the topic of same-sex marriage arose. As Johnson describes it [punctuation added]--

“I had a casual conversation, and I underscore casual -- its like talking over the back fence with your neighbor about a number of issues. This happened some months ago. And I asked one of the judges “What do you think about Minnesota’s law in regard to same-sex marriage that was put in place in 1997 and the court case of 1971, the Baker decision,” and the justice just said, “You know I thought about it and I think the law is pretty good. Probably something we’re not going to take a look at." And you know, kind of as a matter of fact, said "We stand for election too," and we went on to other things. That was the extent of the conversation.
Later in the six-minute interview, Johnson adds --

“To suggest that I somehow by asking the question in a casual way, "What do you think?" is tampering with the Supreme Court, it’s unfathomable to me that you could draw that conclusion.
Once again, the issue is not that Johnson tampered with the Court. I have yet to read anyone accusing him of that.

However, while noting that Johnson wasn’t willing to provide this description of his “innocent conversation” to me before any column was written, that he didn’t describe this “innocent conversation” in his statement to me that was later released to the public, if this is the way the conversation went down then how did he leap to saying “"Members of the Supreme Court, I know all of them. I've had a number of visits with them about our law. All of them, every one of them." How did he leap to naming two additional judges that said “Dean, we’re not going to do this. We’re not going to do this.”

Johnson says that his comments were “at worst, poorly worded.” No, at best they were a violation of a confidence shared with a friend. At worst, Sen. Johnson consciously embellished his conversation to make a political point and provide false assurance to the gathered pastors -- at the expense of friends and colleagues and the integrity of the Court.

Near the end of the interview, Johnson says the “real concern” of the Court is the liberalized campaign rules that allow judges to state their views on issues during a campaign, run with party endorsement, and solicit campaign funds. On that he’s right. Judges are concerned. Ironically, Johnson’s remarks in New London and his cavalier attitude toward them are precisely why its necessary to take a good look at how Minnesota selects its judges.

Bottomline, there's not much new here. Johnson is inchng toward the truth and will probably never quite get there. As he does, it becomes clearer that "loosely worded" is another way of saying he was playing fast and loose with the truth when he made his comments in New London.