MARSHALL - The proposed constitutional amendments that will appear on the ballot next month have not only given voters plenty to think about, they also kept the Minnesota Supreme Court quite busy this summer.
The state's highest court in August ruled to reject a lawsuit from liberal groups who wanted to get the photo ID question off the ballot and denied substitute ballot language that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie wrote for both the photo ID and marriage amendments.
Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Barry Anderson voted in the majority on both of the 4-2 rulings. The incumbent justice, who is facing Independence Party member Dean Barkley in the November election, said whenever the Court is put in the position of deciding the outcome of controversial decisions, the end result will be at least one unhappy party.
"We try to figure out what the correct answer is from our perspective and let the chips fall where they may," said Anderson. "As to the opinions themselves, my advice to people is to not rely on what their friends or neighbors or even the media says about the opinions, but to go to the opinions themselves and read them. They should make their own judgement."
The court rejected the argument that the proposed photo ID amendment was vague and misleading and sided with Republicans who argued Ritchie was trying to bias voters against both amendments with prejudicial language. The Legislature pushed both proposed amendments through over opposition from Democrats, including Gov. Mark Dayton.
Anderson said the Court, which acted as a non-partisan third party on the constitutional amendment issues, would prefer the executive and legislative branches of government resolve issues themselves and leave the courts out of it.
"When the other two branches of government aren't able to agree on constitutional matters and how they should be handled they land in our lap and we're going to have to decide it, and that's what happened here," he said. "They were unable to agree on the questions of voter identification, on whether or not the Legislature correctly handed the title issue. As a consequence, we get to decide those."
Anderson, who made a campaign stop in Marshall on Tuesday, was first appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 1998 and to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2004. This year, he has a bipartisan range of support, gaining endorsements from former governors Arne Carlson, Tim Pawlenty, Al Quie and Wendell Anderson.
This isn't the first election Anderson has been involved in, but it is the first time he has an opponent. He ran unopposed in 2000 and 2006, but this year faces a well-known name in Minnesota politics in Barkley. Anderson said the first rule of campaigning is to take your opponent seriously, and he knows Barkley does have plenty of name recognition.
"He's been a candidate for public office on a number of occasions, he makes regular appearances on 'Almanac,' so he's well-known," said Anderson. "Judicial races tend to be about name identification, so we're determined to not allow that to be a factor."
That process of developing name recognition across Minnesota includes everything from visiting with the public, to yard signs, to social media - something Anderson calls a useful tool to expand name identification. He has 334 Twitter followers and 1,600 Facebook fans.
"We have a very active social media campaign; we really have ramped it up," said Anderson, who grew up in Mankato and practiced law in Fairmont and Hutchinson. "I think judicial races are a really good place for social media. In many respects it works better for a race like a judicial race than it does for, say, a presidential race. I suspect that there are relatively few people who haven't made up their mind on where they're going on the presidential race, and name identification is not an issue. In my race it really is."
Anderson is making his 14 years of experience as a judge - six years on the Court of Appeals and eight years on the Minnesota Supreme Court - the focal point of his campaign. He's the only current member of the Minnesota Supreme Court who has practiced law in greater Minnesota.
"I think that brings a perspective that's useful to the Court," he said. "You wouldn't want a court composed of seven Barry Andersons, but it's another perspective and I think that's useful."