Pioneer Editorial: Apology fine but Johnson not done yet
There is no doubt that Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson made a serious error when he alluded to a group of New London-Spicer area ministers that he'd had conversations with Minnesota Supreme Court justices over whether there may be a...
There is no doubt that Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson made a serious error when he alluded to a group of New London-Spicer area ministers that he'd had conversations with Minnesota Supreme Court justices over whether there may be a will within the court to overturn the state's law which prohibits same-sex marriages.
While Johnson's actions are fair play for admonishment, what Johnson said or didn't say should not add fuel to the fire over the divisive issue of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
Sen. Johnson, DFL-Willmar, in a January meeting with the ministers, said that he had talked to Supreme Court justices about the state's Defense of Marriage Act and alluded that the justices, "every one of them," said that they would not make a ruling which would be in opposition with the law. The meeting was secretly taped by a participating minister, and released last week by groups supporting the call for the constitutional amendment, which they say is necessary to guarantee that judges cannot authorize same-sex marriages.
Sen. Johnson on Friday issued a formal apology for his remarks, and said that he had "embellished" his remarks and that he'd had a scant conversation with only one justice who apparently admitted that there is a law on the books.
While Sen. Johnson's apology was needed and is appreciated, it did not go far enough. Chief Justice Russell Anderson, in polling fellow justices, maintained Monday that such a conversation over the gay marriage amendment with Johnson "just never happened." If that is truly the case, then Sen. Johnson should totally come clean and admit that he went too far in an effort to sway public opinion.
As noted Tuesday by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Johnson has asked for forgiveness, and that should be granted. We need to move on as there are more important issues to discuss. But, Pawlenty also noted, a full explanation is needed. Minnesota's judiciary must not remain clouded -- we want and need to believe that our justices are not predisposing issues before they are even asked to make judgment on them. Chief Justice Anderson said Friday that he takes "any suggestion of judicial impropriety very seriously." So do we.
Sen. Johnson needs to clear the air as to just how much he was "sanding off the truth," for if he maintains that at least one justice told him even in the vaguest terms how the court might lean, it casts doubt on the impartiality of the court. If so, we cannot let that stand. That's why it is so important that Sen. Johnson be precise in what he did, as well as apologize for his grievous error in judgment.
Still, the issue should not detract from the fact that nothing was said making it more likely gay marriages would be allowed in Minnesota, circumventing state law, without the anti-gay-marriage amendment.