System in Minnesota governed by state law
Judge Greg Galler
How are judges selected? How should they be selected?
These are two questions that people ask me with some degree of frequency and they touch at the heart of deciding what type of judiciary we, as citizens of a free republic, wish to have.
Most people want to take politics out of the judicial selection process. However, every system of selecting judges involves some political choices.
In Minnesota, the system for selecting judges is governed by law. When a judge leaves office it creates what is known as a vacant or open seat.
An open seat can occur if a judge does not file for reelection or if a judge retires mid-term. Mid-term vacancies are filled by a governor’s appointment. If a judge is not filing for reelection the seat remains on the ballot and is filled by election.
As Minnesota judges serve six year terms, for most judges, deciding when to retire does not naturally coincide with their term of office. Some believe that judges intentionally retire mid-term so as to prevent their seats from being subject to an election.
I have never heard a judge express such a desire.
Instead, judges, like everyone else, make decisions about retirement based on age, health, personal finances and other factors such as the opportunity to travel and to spend time with their families, especially grandchildren.
Because of all of this, most judges initially take the bench after being appointed by a governor. The governor’s appointment follows a structured process which begins when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court notifies the governor that a judicial seat is vacant.
The governor certifies the opening and notifies the Judicial Selection Commission to announce the open seat and to begin the process of accepting and reviewing applications. For most vacant district court seats, the Judicial Selection Commission receives applications from about 25 interested attorneys.
The Judicial Selection Commission is comprised of 49 people. Nine at-large members serve for all appointments. The other 40 members are equally chosen from across the state’s 10 judicial districts and serve only for vacancies in their district.
The governor appoints some members, the Supreme Court the rest. About one-third of the members are non-lawyers. The commission reviews all of the applications and typically interviews 10 to 15 of the applicants.
Following the interviews, the commission discusses the needs of the county with the vacant seat and tries to determine which applicants have the experience, demeanor, and personal character which best fit the open seat. The commission forwards three to five names to the governor’s office for further consideration.
The Governor also conducts personal interviews with the finalists, eventually appointing someone to fill the seat. While not legally required, governors almost without exception appoint one of the finalists who are referred from the commission.
After appointment judges must stand for election. They are first on the ballot at the earliest general election at least one year after their appointment. Thereafter, if elected, they are on the ballot every six years.
Judge Galler is chambered in Washington County. If you have a general question about the law or courts for Judge Galler, send your question to the editor of this newspaper. Learn more about Judge Galler, or listen to a podcast of his columns at HYPERLINK “http://www.judgegreggaller.com” www.judgegreggaller.com.