Judging From Campaign, Little To Worry About

November 3, 2008

Nonlawyer friends in Ramsey County have been asking me about what to look for in the unusual race for a county judgeship.  The race is unusual because judges usually step down in a way that permits the governor to fill vacancies, and then the appointee then gets to stand for election as an incumbent (usually unopposed).  That did not happen this year, so Gail Chang Bohr and Howard Orenstein are squaring off for a single seat on the Ramsey County bench.

I have read some profiles and examined the candidates’ campaign materials, and from my perspective we cannot go wrong.  Bohr’s web site and Orenstein’s web site make it clear that while the candidates come from vastly different legal backgrounds, both are qualified and would bring much (but different things) to the judiciary.

Last week, the Pioneer Press published a nicely done profile on the candidates, and what struck me in the piece and in the candidates’ campaign materials is the degree to which both have taken the high road, a welcome respite from the nastiness that has permeated the U.S. Senate race and some of the presidential race.

In my mind, this race has alleviated fears from the fallout of the decision in Republican Party v. White, where in 2002 the United States Supreme Court wielded the First Amendment to invalidate a Minnesota rule that kept judicial candidates from stating their views.  As Justice Scalia made clear in his classic, hard-to-disagree-with style, Minnesota is free to keep electing judges, but it may not keep candidates “from discussing what the elections are about.”

Things could get nasty in the future, of course, and an attempt is under way to get rid of judicial elections as we know them.  For now, let’s hope that others follow the lead of (Judge?) Bohr and (Judge?) Orenstein.

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