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Federal appeals panel upholds Minnesota's judicial-election rules

By The Associated Press


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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal appeals court panel yesterday upheld Minnesota rules aimed at keeping partisan politics out of state judicial elections, but the issue may be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

By a 2-1 margin, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld U.S. District Judge Michael Davis' rulings beginning in 1998 that state judicial election rules do not violate the U.S. Constitution.

The rules prohibit judicial candidates from attending or speaking at political party meetings; identifying themselves as party members; seeking, accepting or using political party endorsements; personally soliciting campaign contributions; announcing their views on "disputed legal and political issues," or permitting others to do those things on their behalf.

Circuit Judges Theodore McMillian and John R. Gibson held that the rules narrowly serve compelling state interests in insulating the judiciary from political pressures.

"The issue isn't going to die here. I'm very interested in pursuing it," said Greg Wersal, a former Minnesota Supreme Court candidate who teamed with the state Republican Party to challenge the rules that bar judicial candidates from practically any campaign involvement with political parties.

Wersal said the state GOP has budgeted $20,000 for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a dissent, Judge C. Arlen Beam said that the Minnesota Constitution's requirement that judges be elected demands their freedom of speech and association.


Supreme Court to decide if states can restrict judicial candidates' speech
Analysis Case juxtaposes two deeply held values: First Amendment protection for political speech, integrity of judicial process.  12.04.01