DULUTH (AP) -- The Minnesota State Bar Association went on record Friday opposing the endorsement of judicial candidates by political parties.
In a unanimous decision, the group called those endorsements ''a significant threat to judicial independence and impartiality and to public confidence in the integrity of the judicial system.''
The resolution was approved by delegates at the association's state convention at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
The endorsement issue was raised two weeks ago at the state Republican Party convention in Rochester. The party refused to endorse for re-election four incumbent Supreme Court justices: Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz and Justices Russell Anderson, James Gilbert and Joan Lancaster. All four are appointees of former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson.
It did endorse Golden Valley attorney Greg Wersal, who has run for the Supreme Court in the past, but has not yet decided whether he will be a candidate this year. Three appellate judges who were endorsed shunned the party's support.
On Friday, Wersal distributed literature at the convention, asking delegates ''to support the legal right of all citizens, including those belonging to political parties, to participate in judicial elections.''
Tony Sutton, executive director of the state Republican Party, said the party will continue to endorse candidates despite the bar association's resolution.
''I'm a little perplexed about why a group of people would want to keep the system closed,'' said Sutton, who was contacted by the Duluth News Tribune. ''In a democracy, information is a good thing.''
But resolution supporters said politics could pressure judges to follow party lines rather than case evidence and law. They said that can make it difficult for judges to be fair and for the public to trust that trials are not biased.
''There could be a case essentially decided by a judge prior to hearing the laws and evidence,'' said state Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge, assistant Senate majority leader and the resolution's author.
But Sutton said he was more concerned about judges being biased by the influence and endorsements of groups such as local unions and trial-lawyer associations. A political party has fewer special interests, he said.
Minnesota Supreme Court rules prohibit judicial candidates from identifying with or seeking endorsements from political parties.
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