The Minnesota Senate took an important step Friday toward a politically fair and credible drawing of new congressional and legislative district boundaries after the 2010 census. It approved a constitutional amendment that would assign the task to a panel of five retired judges, selected in bipartisan fashion, and allow the 2011 and, if necessary, the 2012 Legislatures the opportunity to accept or reject their new map -- but not amend it.

That idea, the brainchild of a bipartisan commission headed by former GOP Gov. Arne Carlson and former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale, had strong Senate sponsorship by Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller. Still, it passed with just four votes to spare.

That suggests that the idea may have tough sledding when it moves next year to the House, where it must also win approval  to go on the 2010 general election ballot. Getting legislators to agree to yield some of their own prerogatives isn't easy. But in this case, selflessness is in lawmakers' long-term interests. Redistricting is an exercise fraught with opportunities for political mischief -- and when that happens, public trust in government is diminished. Putting the task in the hands of a legally skilled neutral panel will do much to enhance confidence in the fairness of the outcome.