Hoppe backs judicial retention election constitutional amendment

State Representative Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska) has signed on as a co-author on H.F. 1083 that would fundamentally change the way judges are selected and elected in this state.  The bill would place a constitutional amendment before voters asking them to replace traditional judicial elections, where candidates can challenge incumbent judges, with judicial retention elections.  How would a judicial retention election work?

  • Incumbent judges would be subject to a yes-or-no retention vote at the end of their six-year term on the bench.  
  • Winners of the retention vote would get another six-year term; losers of the retention vote would lose their spot on the bench at the end of their term.
  • The governor, selecting from a pool of candidates vetted by a bipartisan merit selection commission, would appoint a replacement.  The replacement would face a retention vote in the first election occurring more than one year after they were appointed.  (For instance, if a judge were appointed in 2015, they would face a retention vote in 2016.  A judge appointed in 2016 would face a retention vote in 2018.)
  • A Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission would be established with the purpose of providing feedback to voters on the judge’s performance — assigning them to one of three categories (“Well-qualified”, “qualified”, or “not qualified”).  Evaluations would be completed and published at the midway point of the judge’s six-year term as well as in the year of their retention election.

Supporters of the bill point to the fact that about 90% of judicial elections are unopposed today, meaning that even “unqualified” judges may be getting a free pass to another term on the bench.  They also suggest that retention election will work to get money out of judicial elections, lessening the possibility of moneyed interests essentially buying a judgeship.

Opponents of the bill point out that in some ways, judicial elections lessen accountability by putting selection of judges solely in the hands of the governor.  Additionally, there are concerns about the standards to be used by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.  The bill specifies the following as criteria to be used:  “knowledge of the law, procedure, integrity, impartiality, temperament, respect for litigants, respect for the rule of law, administrative skill, punctuality, and communication skills.”

What is excluded from these criteria include measures of a judge’s quality of work.  The language of the bill specifically excludes looking at measures like how often their opinions are overturned by higher courts or statistical studies of how their sentences compare with sentencing guidelines.  Such data is readily available and should be included in any comprehensive evaluation of judicial performance.

Local judicial activists have indicated preferences for candidates (legislative and judicial) who are opposed to retention elections.

I’m inclined to agree with the opponents of judicial retention elections.  Retention elections do not create accountability and transparency to the extent supporters claim they do — in fact, on net, they tend to limit public input on judges.  Being able to directly challenge an incumbent judge — even if rare and even if rarely successful — is important and shouldn’t have additional layers of bureaucracy placed in between the people and their preferences.  Minnesota has campaign finance law that has been reasonably effective in limiting the influence of moneyed interests from influencing judicial election results and the political parties themselves have exercised restraint in turning these elections into partisan sideshows.

(Additionally, it should be pointed out that this yet another example of Rep. Hoppe backing yet another constitutional amendment while claiming not to like legislating that way.)


10 Responses to “Hoppe backs judicial retention election constitutional amendment”

  1. Not that I support this, but can it be changed without a Constitutional Amendment?

    • No, the provisions for electing judges are specified in the state Constitution.

      • But the Constitution says the voters decide in an election, not the Governor.

        • The Constitution provides for the Governor to fill judicial vacancies that occur due to retirement or resignation.

          • Only until the next election. Your comment seems to be a partisan jab. Don’t want the posting police coming after me again, but I don’t see how this happens without modifying the Constitution. You had me up until you took the stab.

            • You mean my comment about Hoppe’s mismatch between words and actions on constitutional amendments? It’s not a partisan stab, it’s pointing out that words don’t match actions. There’s politicians on both sides of the aisle who go around and claim they think the constitution need to be amended in lots of places, and they propose amendments as such. Hoppe goes around saying he doesn’t like legislating by constitutional amendment, yet he: voted for two of them last session, chief authored another one, and has backed this one in the last two sessions. If you don’t like legislating by constitutional amendment, then don’t do it.

  2. Sean, Thanks for taking stand against. This is bad legislation pushed by people elected to their legislative office, but seeking to deny such freedoms (with ancillary accountability and responsibility) to others who may seek the equivalent judicial office. Most desirable judicial candidates aren’t already “in the club”.


  1. Droning on and on, and other news | Carver County Current - March 7, 2013

    […] Dave Thompson.  Opposite Section 7 the GOP platform.  Read more at the Brick City Blog.  I’m certain a stern reprimand, letters to the editor, and a vote of no-confidence are […]

  2. Hoppe hears it from Carver County GOP Executive Committee | Brick City Blog - March 28, 2013

    […] This week’s Chaska Herald features a letter to the editor by Carver County GOP Chair Vince Beaudette on behalf of the group’s Executive Committee.  The letter, titled “An open letter to Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska)”, calls out Hoppe for his support of H.F. 1083, which would institute judicial retention elections. […]

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