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Election 2012: Judicial Race for Chief Justice

October 13th, 2012 (08:06 pm)

Conveniently, I don't think there are any contested judicial races on the ballot for my future St. Paul address that are not also on the ballot for my Minneapolis address. This post is going to be just about the Chief Justice race, though, because I have a surprising amount to say.

Chief Justice
Dan Griffith
Lorie Skjerven Gildea (incumbent)

I nearly always vote for incumbents in judicial races, but I realize that "well, s/he is the incumbent" is not necessarily a particularly persuasive argument to my readers. So I started doing a little digging this time and wound up really perplexed by what the hell does this Dan Griffiths guy actually believe, anyway.

His website is ... vague. Dog-whistle-y in a Christian Dominionist sort of way. There's the picture of his wife, staring up at him all smiley while he stares out resolutely at the camera. There's the phrase, "I offer a servant's perspective," which he then clarifies below is a reference to elected officials being public servants. In "About Dan," one of his sons describes him as "righteous." This is not language anyone outside of Dominionist subcultures uses to describe real people that they actually know, ever (unless it's the late 1980s/early 1990s -- it was one of those terms that enjoyed a brief vogue that might have been Bill and Ted related, I can't quite remember. It is not used SERIOUSLY by anyone outside that subculture.) He quotes Bork (OMG, remember Bork?)

If you're a Dominionist and you look at this website, you will see someone who is signalling clearly and repeatedly, I am one of you. Even as he carefully stays away from the phrases that the left has learned to watch for, like "original intent of the founders" or "activist judges."

And yet when people have publicly said, "This guy is a stealth right-winger" he has popped up in the comments (scroll down, you'll find him) to say that this isn't true and you should look at his website to see what he really believes.

But his website contains no positions of any kind. On his Facebook page, someone asks him about this and he says, "That is because judicial candidates are prohibited from making a pledge or a promise on specific issues that could come before the Court (which is just about everything). That is why I speak about the principles I adhere to. One issue I can speak to is that I believe judges must apply the law (and Constitution), not rewrite it."

...and, sure. You're not supposed to say, on your web page, when you're running for a judgeship, "I will firmly uphold a woman's right to an abortion!" (say) or "I will rule in favor of gay marriage!" or "I will rule against Obamacare any chance I get!" or "I will rule in favor of Naomi. ALWAYS. Whatever she wants, she gets."

But you can talk about your principles far more specifically than Griffith does. You are certainly allowed to say that you've not yet heard a convincing argument that women have a legal right to abortions, if you're anti-abortion. You're allowed to say that in general you think that love is love, regardless of whether the two people in love are two men, or a man and a woman. He doesn't say any of this stuff.

He does, however, have this great picture of himself posing by the party booths for Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and Jessecrats. It sort of implies that they all think he's awesome. Never mind that this picture was taken at the State Fair, and anyone who wants can take a picture of themselves in the DFL booth at the State Fair.

So anyway, here's another "he's a stealth Dominionist" article, which he responds to, once again. In his rebuttal, he says (among many other things) that the article says he's on the board of a network of radio stations "that preaches hell-fire and damnation to gays, pro-choicers, and other liberals." Griffith responds, "Wrong again. I am on the board of ONE radio station in International Falls. They have nothing to do with politics, just service to the community."

Here's the radio station: PsalmFM. And their programming listing.

Let me note for the record that I do not think Christian is synonymous with Dominionist, nor do I think that a Christian radio station inherently "preaches hellfire and damnation" to anyone. And I'm not going to listen to the shows. But I did visit some of the websites, and found stuff that disturbed me, like the "Eight Lies About Marriage" article from familylife.com that listed as lie eight, "there's no hope for my marriage--it can't be fixed." (Look, if your husband is beating you, you need to get out. This is not a fixable situation and you should not stick around and pray for God to change his heart. This website does have an article about abuse that at least says that it's unacceptable and not the fault of the victim, and encourages victims to leave -- but with the ultimate goal of reconciliation because "change is possible." Yeah.)

Also, the PsalmFM website itself features a "Marriage Minute" (a video made by the group that's pushing for the anti-gay amendment that's on the ballot this year). Interestingly, on Griffith's facebook page, someone asks, "Will you strive to give LGBT equality?" Griffith responds, "EVERYONE deserves to be treated equally under the law."

There's a level of disingenuousness in his campaign that is frankly breathtaking.

Back in 2010, Griffith was also running for judge, and a lot less stealthy about his beliefs -- apparently he got endorsed by both the GOP and the ultra-conservative Constitution Party.

Anyway, I will wholeheartedly endorse Lorie Skjerven Gildea on the grounds that Dan Griffith IS, in fact, a stealth Dominionist, and a freaking dangerous one -- he apparently got 48.5% of the vote in the Judicial race he ran in back in 2010. Gildea is a Pawlenty appointee, and I would prefer someone more liberal. Griffith is NOT IT.

But he wants you to think he is, while he counts on his religious-right allies picking up on all the cues about his real beliefs.


Posted by: Adrian Turtle (adrian_turtle)
Posted at: October 14th, 2012 07:28 pm (UTC)

I am not a Minnesota voter, but I am impressed by your diligence in tracking down this kind of information about people who are somewhat-furtively trying to take over our government for the forces of evil.

Posted by: Wade Sutton (Wade Sutton)
Posted at: October 18th, 2012 04:23 am (UTC)


You might want to reconsider your position on this one. If I were you, I'd give Dan a call.

Dan doesn't hide his religious beliefs. He isn't sending secret messages to conservatives while courting progressives. His message is the same as ever. He isn't stealthy or disengenious about people endorsing him or groups that support him. He welcomes any party to support him because all parties would benefit from a nonpartisan, impartial Chief Justice.

He has been received positively by many across the political spectrum because he is a constitutionalist. Thinking voters understand that social issues should be fought in the legislature. We don't want laws rewritten by judges. This takes the power away from the people. Judges should only interpret the law, not insert themselves into the law.

I am a political moderate who decided to work with the Griffith campaign. I have a deep distrust of religion mixing with politics on any level. I oppose the marriage amendment and have no problems working to help Dan get elected. I know Dan. I have spoken to him numerous times. I would encourage you to do the same.


Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 18th, 2012 04:33 am (UTC)

In 2010, he was endorsed by both the GOP and the Constitution Party. He filled out a questionnaire (which is no longer online, but described in the Minnesota Independent article linked above) in which he said that he "opposes court decisions that allow for public funding of abortion, prohibit school prayer and ban the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property. He agreed with court cases that banned adoption by same-sex couples and assisted suicide."

He agreed in 2010 with court cases that banned adoption by same-sex couples, and won the endorsement of a party that says in its platform "We stand against so-called 'sexual orientation' and 'hate crime' statutes that attempt to legitimize inappropriate sexual behavior and to stifle public resistance to its expression."

And yet you expect me to believe that two years later, he favors equal rights and opportunities for the GLBT community?

Sometimes laws should be rewritten by judges because they violate the Constitution and are clearly unjust. By the arguments of strict constitutionalists, Brown v. Board of Education should have gone the other way.

Posted by: Wade Sutton (Wade Sutton)
Posted at: October 18th, 2012 12:00 pm (UTC)

That is an extremely dangerous and harmful point of view. To actually think judges should be willing to break the law the are supposed to interpret for the greater good is Machiavellian. That is a path down which we don't want to go. I will simply disagree with you on principle. Frightening.

It seems like you want an extremist who agrees with you politically rather than a moderate, nonpartisan who will simply interpret and apply the laws. I don't trust people or party politics that much. That is why I prefer Dan, a constitutionalist, over a political appointee. And we don't ever want extremist judges writing laws. Frightening.

That is not correct about Brown vs Board of Education. It was decided constitutionally. Students were not treated equally under the law. It came down to applying constitutional principles fully. It is the same with LGBT rights.

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 18th, 2012 01:56 pm (UTC)

A law that prevents gay couples from adopting is also a clear-cut case of people being treated unequally under the law, and yet apparently Griffith thought this was okay -- it's hard to see his rationale since the information is no longer online.

Are you as appalled by jury nullification as you are by judges throwing out unjust laws?

Posted by: Wade Sutton (Wade Sutton)
Posted at: October 18th, 2012 09:44 pm (UTC)

Not at all. I am a big supporter of civil disobedience. If the majority of Minnesotans vote to disenfranchise homosexuals by amending the constitution, I would encourage people to silently, nonviolently, and peacefully disobey that law. Take it all the way to the US Supreme Court and win. Dissent, both legal and illegal, is one way the people maintain morality and justice. That is what we should do as citizens. 

This is very different than a judge legislating or rewriting law. Individuals should not have that power. That is frightening. 

Ultimately, jury nullification is a protest of injustice by a group of citizens when they consider the law to be immoral. Nullification does not set precedent for future cases. Judges do when they make a decision, and so when they insert bias it is dangerous. 

John Salmond in his 1920 Jurisprudence:
"No jury ever answers a question on principle; it gives decisions, but no reasons; it decides in concreto, not in abstracto. In this respect the judicial action of juries differs fundamentally from that of judges. The latter decide on principle, whenever this is possible. They formulate the ratio decidendi which underlies their decision; they strive after the general and the abstract, instead of adhering to the concrete. Hence it is that the decision of a judge may constitute a precedent, while that of a jury cannot."

But jury nullification sends a message to society and to the legislature that the law must be changed, that it is an unjust law. 

Constitutional judges can also attach an opinion (sorry, can't remember the legal term) to the case warning that the law as written has unforeseen and unjust consequences and that it should be revisited and revised by the legislature. This is the role of the judge and we don't want them to be more than guardians of our rights. 

I hope this highlights the difference and shows you why I feel comfortable as one who opposes the marriage amendment to consider voting for Dan Griffith or at least research him more closely. The second hand information you have cited is just not as good as asking him in person. I have read them and they twist what he says according to some false presuppositions. As you wrote, "not all Christians are Dominions."

Consider calling him or setting up a speaking engagement for him. You will find out how straightforward he is about his judicial philosophy. I can probably get him there. 

Posted by: electric misfit love machine (eyelid)
Posted at: November 5th, 2012 09:15 pm (UTC)

To actually think judges should be willing to break the law the are supposed to interpret for the greater good is Machiavellian.

I think you are not quite understanding. Here is how the law in this country works:

->Federal Constitution: overarching law. Any law violating the constitution is void and neither can nor should be enforced by a court.

-> Federal statutes/regulations: generally trump state law. Any state law violating federal law in an area where (under the federal Constitution) the federal government may legislate is void and neither can nor should be enforced by a court.

-> State Constitutions (like Minnesota's): overarching law of the state. Any state law violating the state constitution is void and neither can nor should be enforced by a court.

-> State laws: generally trump county and city laws. Any county or city law violating state statutes is void and neither can nor should be enforced by a court.

When Naomi speaks of courts needing to overturn unconstitutional laws, she's not saying judges should just say "hey, I don't like that law, it's mean, so I'm going to just ignore it/overturn it." She's saying that a court can and should when appropriate say "this state law violates the federal constitution, so the state law is void."

Example: a state law that bans any political demonstrations would be a violation of people's federal constitutional right to free speech. A court would be compelled to overturn such a law. This is not "the court breaking the law." It is the court APPLYING the law - the Constitution of the United States.

If Dan Griffiths is telling you that judges should never overturn a law, he lacks the basic legal knowledge necessary to be an attorney, let alone a judge.

There is no judge anywhere, conservative or liberal or neither, who will tell you that a court should never overturn a law.

Regarding Dan Griffiths, the concern is that he will not "interpret and apply" fairly, but rather will "interpret and apply" law according to his religion. You say that he's not going to legislate his religion, but his survey responses and emphasis on his religious affiliation suggest otherwise.

I'm not interested in voting for a judge who is interested in legislating evangelical Christianity from the bench. I'm interested in having judges who are excellent, well-respected attorneys who want to fairly apply the law.

(also, the term "constitutionalist" is essentially meaningless. People can legitimately disagree on what parts of the constitution mean and how they should be interpreted. There is no One True Obvious Answer to most constitutional questions. Mr. Griffith's idea of what the Constitution says may be different from my own. Nevertheless, both of us would say that we would honestly apply the constitution.)

Edited at 2012-11-05 09:18 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Chris Oinonen Ehren (Chris Oinonen Ehren)
Posted at: November 5th, 2012 05:49 pm (UTC)

I really appreciate this kind of reporting. I do think your interpretation is correct. Someone who is supposed to be impartial and yet serves on the board of a hell and damnation radio station - it isn't an impartial activity. It is the kind of thing that a judge should not be doing. You can go to church and be a judge, but you can't be involved in printing out tracts for handing out on street corners.

Posted by: Red eyed and blue (jessikate)
Posted at: November 5th, 2012 08:53 pm (UTC)

The thing that tipped me off about this guy was his mention of Ayn Rand. Thanks, buddy, you can stop right there. I'm not seeing anything that tips me one way or the other on Gildea's site, but sometimes all that's needed is to figure out which candidate you definitely DON'T want.

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