Last week, Governor Tim Pawlenty appointed two die-hard conservative allies to positions on the Minnesota Supreme Court. And there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.
Unlike U.S. judicial appointments, Pawlenty’s picks are not subject to confirmation by the Senate. They are in until the next election and, because of the timing of the appointments, that means 2012.
Justice Lorie Gildea, whose vehement 21-page dissent in the recent unallotment case supported the Pawlenty position, was appointed Chief Justice. Then Pawlenty appointed University of Minnesota law professor David Stras to fill her now-vacant position. Stras, who wrote an amicus brief supporting Pawlenty’s unallotment, is a member of the arch-conservative Federalist Society.
Pawlenty had originally appointed Gildea to the Supreme Court in 2006. She was re-elected in 2008, for a six-year term. In theory, Minnesota Supreme Court justices are elected to office and face re-election every six years. In practice, the governor appoints a new justice when a seat becomes vacant. Few judges – at any level – ever lose elections once they are in office.
Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of judge the governor shall appoint in the manner provided by law a qualified person to fill the vacancy until a successor is elected and qualified. The successor shall be elected for a six year term at the next general election occurring more than one year after the appointment. Article VI, Section 8, Minnesota Constitution
Six of the seven urrent justices were appointed by Republican governors – none by Democrats.
Chief Justice Eric J. Magnuson – 2008 – appointed by Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty (resigned from the court, effective June 30)
Justice Alan C. Page – 1993 – appointed by Republican Governor Arne Carlson
Justice Paul H. Anderson – 1994 – appointed by Republican Governor Arne Carlson
Justice Helen M. Meyer – 2002 – appointed by Independent Governor Jesse Ventura
Justice G. Barry Anderson – 2004 – appointed by Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty
Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea – 2006 – appointed by Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty
Justice Christopher J. Dietzen – 2008 – appointed by Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty
In theory, a justice could be defeated in an election, but I can’t remember that ever happening. So the new Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea, now 48, will probably hold that position for decades to come.
Despite Republican domination of the Supreme Court appointment process (six out of seven justices appointed by Republican governors), the court has shown integrity and independence under Chief Justice Magnuson, who is himself a former law partner of Governor Pawlenty. With last week’s two very ideological appointments, we will have to wait and see whether that tradition continues.