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March 17, 2006
Minnesota DFL Leader Lied About Conversation With State Supreme Court

State Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson has had to fall back on Roget's Thesaurus in order to describe his allergy to the truth regarding his conduct in a recent appearence. Following a claim that three of the seven sitting justices on the state Supreme Court would not rewrite Minnesota law and order gender-neutral marriage legalized, the DFL leader has had to backpedal in embarrassment when the Chief Justice called Johnson a liar:

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson said Thursday that he "embellished" a conversation he had with a state Supreme Court justice to placate clergy who challenged his assurances that the court wouldn't overturn a Minnesota law and allow same-sex marriages.

Johnson sought to explain a recorded conversation with clergy in January, when he described an earlier discussion he had with Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz about the state's marriage law. In the recording, Johnson says Blatz told him, "We're not going to touch it."

In an interview Thursday, Johnson said he overstated the justice's comments. He wouldn't identify the justice.

"I embellished it to say the judiciary doesn't seem too interested in overturning this," Johnson said.

Minnesota currently is debating a constitutional amendment to identify marriage as between one man and one woman as several states have either already done or are considering in the wake of the Massachussetts Supreme Court's decision to force their legislature to recognize same-sex marriages. Johnson has opposed the action as unnecessary and had met with clergy to reassure them that new legislation was superfluous. One of the meetings got recorded by a minister, and the recording captured Johnson as insisting that he had spoken with three justices about their position on the matter, and that they had promised Johnson that they would not impose a Massachussetts-style decision on Minnesota's legislature.

If what Johnson had said was true, it constituted a gross breach of ethics on the part of the Supreme Court. Jurists are forbidden from committing to a position without hearing a case on the topic, and having three justices on the court that would categorically say such a thing to a member of the state senate would demonstrate significant political corruption on the panel. Chief Justice Russell Anderson sent out an immediate and angry statement that said in no uncertain terms that Johnson and the truth were at best casual acquaintances:

"I take any suggestion of judicial impropriety very seriously. I have spoken with every member of my court and my predecessor and I can say with confidence that no member of the Supreme Court has made any commitment to Senator Johnson on this matter."

After Anderson's statement, Johnson started moving in reverse. At first, after having been exposed as a liar, Johnson blamed the minister who taped his remarks. "I have no respect for professional clergy who conduct themselves in this manner," Johnson said, apparently speaking with the moral authority of a politician who would lie to clergymen about fantasy conversations with Supreme Court justices.

Johnson tried telling Minnesota Public Radio yesterday that he had a "casual conversation" with one justice "some months ago", and that the justice told him that the Court would not touch it because in Minnesota, voters have to reaffirm them to the bench on a regular basis. He wouldn't name the justice nor get specific about when and where this conversation occurred. Later in the day, he acknowledged that he "embellished" his argument against the proposed legislation.

Proponents of the amendment have called for Johnson's resignation. His response? The suggestion is "mean spirited". Most Minnesotans would call it accountability. If Johnson feels fine with telling these kind of whoppers to ministers and priests, Lord knows what he thinks about telling his constituents the truth.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 17, 2006 5:32 AM

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