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A New Plan to "Reserve Judgment" for the People

March 5, 2008

St. Paul, MN – How should judges be chosen? That's under discussion at the Minnesota State Capitol and the subject of a proposed constitutional amendment. House bill sponsor Steve Simon says it is aimed at getting money and politics out of the process because, too often, judges are selected for ideology and backed by lobbyists.

"Judges are supposed to be impartial. Judges are not batters or pitchers or catchers. Judges are umpires."

Under the amendment, the governor would appoint judges from a selection commission list and an impartial panel would evaluate their performance. They wouldn't face opposition, but be voted up or down by the public.

Simon says the state has to set the rules on judicial contests, because a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allows nominees to behave more like political candidates, and he believes judges shouldn't be politicians.

"First, judges and judicial candidates can openly and directly raise money. They couldn't do that before but now they can. Secondly, judges and judicial candidates can now openly seek and accept all sorts of partisan and interest group endorsements which they couldn't do before. Third, they can talk about and take positions on legal issues that are likely to come before them as judges."

If approved, the constitutional amendment would be on the fall ballot.

The amendment is drawn from recommendations from the panel Minnesotans for Impartial Courts, headed by former Governor Al Quie, who believes we need a fair, impartial judiciary for the public to respect the rule of law.

"When we see political parties organizing out of judicial districts, in order that they can gain control, it's important that we do as we have done before. When there is a threat to impartiality, either the legislature, or people, have decided, through a constitutional amendment, to bring it back. And, we are at that time now; otherwise, those who gain the power will not want us to change."

More information is available online at www.jrlc.org.

Jim Wishner/Eric Mack, Public News Service - MN