In Minnesota, a broad-based group known as the Coalition for Impartial Justice (CIJ) is working to preserve the quality and impartiality of the state’s judges—and thereby preserve Minnesotans’ trust in their court system. According to the constitution, Minnesota judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections, but to date the state has not seen the expensive and highly politicized contests experienced in other states. CIJ wants to make sure that it never does. The coalition includes more than 30 business, labor, religious, citizen, and legal groups and is working to implement the 2007 recommendations of the Citizens Commission for the Preservation of an Impartial Judiciary, known as the Quie Commission. The commission was unanimous in calling for the adoption of a “merit selection” process for judges and a performance evaluation program, with a majority of the commission favoring retention elections for subsequent terms.
Approximately 90 percent of Minnesota judges are already selected through a commission-based gubernatorial appointment process—authorized by statute—to fill vacancies that arise between elections, and judicial elections are rarely contested. While the statute does not mandate that the governor appoint commission nominees, and its role is limited to trial court appointments, Governor Mark Dayton follows the commission’s recommendations and seeks its input for appellate court vacancies as well. In 2012, 55 percent of his judicial appointees were women and 17 percent were minorities. CIJ hopes to enshrine in the state’s constitution the existing, de facto judicial selection process.
IAALS has provided resources and expertise to both the Quie Commission and the Coalition for Impartial Justice.