Anderson campaigning on his record, not issues [UPDATED]Published 11:00am Thursday, September 27, 2012 Updated 12:03pm Friday, September 28, 2012
He may be on the campaign trail, but when people ask Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Barry Anderson about “the issues,” he typically remains mum. The eight-year veteran of the state’s highest judicial court is committed to impartiality, even when he’s trying to woo voters.
Anderson was in Fergus Falls Wednesday night to meet voters and do a question-and-answer session at Pizza Ranch for local voters. Though his job now requires a residence with nearby metro access, Anderson grew up in Mankato and practiced law in Hutchinson, and he considers himself a child of greater Minnesota.
“I wanted to make sure that we did at least a couple of media swings through home territory for me,” he said of his campaign trail.
Anderson is well-known among the justices for moderating the “Your Legislators” program on Pioneer Public Television. Though he was a Tim Pawlenty appointee, Anderson told The Journal he chooses not to exercise the additional leeway to discuss political views given to judicial candidates by the decade-old The Republican Party of Minnesota vs. White case.
“It’s a conscious choice because I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
When a justice or a potential justice talks about an issue that may come before him or her, said Anderson, he or she runs the risk of making a person with an interest in that issue believe that the justice won’t rule impartially. Though he believes many in the legal field have been trained to set aside their biases when approaching a case, he knows voters won’t always see it that way.
“The minute you start down that road… you’re essentially asking the public to think that lawyers have the capability that others don’t to set aside those pre-existing views,” he said.
Besides, he added, it’s important to keep an open mind. He doesn’t see the point in claiming that he espouses a particular political group or ideology because he might not when he sees the specifics of a case. A court issue is rarely as simple as it appears to be on the surface.
“You don’t know what your opinion is until that case is before you,” he said.
Anderson also encouraged people to go to the court records to know his ideological viewpoints.
“The fact of the matter is that our opinions speak for themselves, and I suggest to people that they read the opinions (on an individual case),” he said. “Each sentence in that opinion is there for particular reasons.”
While he’s on the campaign trail, Anderson prefers to talk about his experience (nearly 15 years as a judge) and on what he can do to improve the judicial system in the state. As a member of the state Judicial Council, Anderson is working to improve court efficiency and cut costs by sharing administrative resources across counties and by increasing electronic court filing.
And, perhaps most importantly in his role as a judge, he talks about impartiality.
“They think I’m ducking the question when I say, ‘I’m not going to talk about (an upcoming case),’ but I’m not,” he said.
He noted that while the U.S. Supreme Court deals with universal issues on a national scale, the state Supreme Court often tackles issues that affect the processes of district courts on a day-to-day basis. These issues are as important to him as the items that get a lot of press, and on both fronts, he doesn’t want to tip his hand.