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Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor says judicial elections must remain fair, unpoliticized

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor made a brief stop in the Twin Cities Wednesday, telling a gathering of legislators that it's important to maintain fair judicial elections in the state and to keep them from becoming politicized or subject to financing by special interests.

She said she believes so strongly in the need to preserve an impartial judiciary that she has formed the O'Connor Judicial Selection Initiative at the at the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System to work with states across the country on reform efforts.

O'Connor stopped briefly in Minnesota — while en route to her home in Arizona from an East Coast conference — to support efforts by the Coalition for Impartial Justice. She had lunch with Coalition leaders and other local legal leaders, then spoke at the Legislative Policy Conference at the Humphrey Institute.

Coalition officials said there is proposed legislation in Minnesota for a "constitutional amendment that would create a nonpartisan citizen commission to evaluate the performance of sitting judges and make its assessment public to voters before Election Day."

They said: "Voters then would have fair and impartial information to decide whether the judge should be retained in office. As they are now, vacant judgeships would be filled by the sitting governor; once on the bench, those candidates would stand for retention elections."

The group also noted:

Recent federal court decisions, including the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, have opened the door to an era of expensive, mudslinging judicial elections␣which could be heavily financed by special interest groups. These contests are spreading across the country, including as close as Wisconsin. No matter who wins these elections, the result is always the same: a loss of public trust in the justice system.

Said Leo Brisbois, president of the Minnesota State Bar Association and chair of the coalition:

"We can't wait to see if vicious, expensive judicial elections will come to Minnesota. If we don't act now, those types of judicial elections will soon be seen here. When that happens, Minnesotans will lose faith in our judicial system — the arbiter of fairness in our society."

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