Minnesota Supreme Court is strengthened by diversity

Published 9:37 am Thursday, June 30, 2016

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

A judicial branch of government in which every Minnesotan, regardless of gender or race, can see himself or herself reflected. A judiciary — and a legal profession — that knows no “glass ceiling” of gender or racial limitation.

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Those goals are just as desirable today as they were in January 1991, when the late Gov. Rudy Perpich made history on his last day in office by giving Minnesota the nation’s first female majority on its state Supreme Court. The court’s 4-3 female-male split lasted until the retirement of Perpich’s first high-court appointee, Rosalie Wahl, in 1994.

It’s about to return. Gov. Mark Dayton announced Tuesday that Fourth District Judge Anne McKeig would succeed Associate Justice Christopher Dietzen when he retires in August. McKeig will join Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea and Associate Justices Natalie Hudson and Margaret Chutich to again give the court a 4-3 female majority.

Minnesota won’t stand alone among the states this time. Since 1991, supreme courts in 10 states have had female majorities, three of them — Michigan, New York and Ohio — for more than one stint.

But Dayton’s commitment to diversity within Minnesota’s judicial ranks is nevertheless praiseworthy. McKeig brings an added measure: A descendant of the White Earth Nation, she will be the first American Indian on the high court. She is a nationally renowned authority on Indian child welfare and child protection, and she has been an adjunct professor at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law as well as a district judge. Her initial appointment came at the hands of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, suggesting that partisanship was not an ingredient in DFLer Dayton’s decision.

With this appointment, the Minnesota Supreme Court becomes “the Dayton court,” with four of the seven justices appointed by the two-term governor. It’s not yet evident that the court has shifted philosophically as a result. But the signal of commitment to racial and gender equity that the court’s evolving composition sends is unmistakable, and serves Minnesota well.