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State of Minnesota

Judicial Campaigns and Elections: Minnesota

Campaign Conduct

According to Canon 5 of Minnesota's code of judicial conduct, judicial candidates shall not:

  • With respect to cases, controversies, or issues that are likely to come before the court, make pledges or promises that are inconsistent with the impartial performance of the adjudicative duties of the office.
  • Knowingly, or with reckless disregard for the truth, misrepresent the identity, qualifications, expressed position or other fact concerning themselves or their opponents.
  • By words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice inappropriate to judicial office.
  • Personally solicit or accept campaign contributions.

In 1998, a supreme court candidate and the Republican Party of Minnesota filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of provisions of Canon 5 relating to candidates announcing their views on disputed legal or political issues, personally soliciting campaign contributions, and affiliating themselves with political parties. The federal district court upheld the provisions, 63 F.Supp.2d 967 (D. Minn. 1999), and the court of appeals affirmed, 247 F.3d 854 (8th Cir. 2001). The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari on the question of whether the so-called "announce clause" violated the First Amendment, and in 2002, the Court struck down the clause as unconstitutional. Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002). Supporters of the decision assert that allowing judicial candidates to share their views will provide voters with much-needed information, but critics worry that it will threaten judges' impartiality. In 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit struck down Minnesota canons that prohibited judges from soliciting contributions (insofar as it prohibits a judicial candidate from soliciting contributions from large groups and transmitting solicitations above their personal signatures), identifying their political party affiliation, attending political gatherings, and seeking political party endorsement, 416 F.3d 738 (8th Cir. 2005). In a subsequent challenge, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit held unconstitutional three additional clauses, including the personal solicitation clause as it applied to the plaintiff's desire to solicit contributions door-to-door from non-attorneys. Wersal v. Sexton (8th Cir. July 29, 2010).