Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty announced two appointments to the Minnesota Supreme Court today. First, he elevated sitting associate justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea to Chief Justice, replacing outgoing Chief Justice Eric Magnuson. Second, as some of my co-bloggers have noted below, he tapped University of Minnesota law professor David Stras to fill the vacancy created by Justice Gildea’s elevation. With these two appointments, Governor Pawlenty continues to place his stamp on the Minnesota Supreme Court, as he has named four of the court’s seven justices. These appointments also suggest that Governor Pawlenty takes judicial appointments seriously and recognizes the policy consequences of the court’s composition. (For my prior post on this subject, see here.)
The rationale for the Governor’s picks is not difficult to discern. Elevating a sitting associate justice makes sense. A sitting justice understands the current court, the personalities of the justices, and is likely in better position to provide immediate leadership on the court than would an outsider. It also broadens the range of potential appointees for the newly created associate justice spot. And, as Gov. Pawlenty had named three of the court’s associate justices, it was only logical he would elevate one of his own appointees rathern than one of the remaining justices.
I also think it was quite shrewd for the Governor to use the second pick on a younger appointee to provide an intellectual spark on the court. Professor Stras is a well-regarded academic and is exceptionally smart. His academic experience could have an effect beyond his single vote in individual cases. The two appointments, in tandem, enable the Governor to influence the Court in two ways — simultaneously providing more senior leadership in line with his judicial philosophy while also adding intellectual depth to the court’s deliberations. In this regard, Pawlenty’s appointments remind me of President Reagan’s decision to elevate then-associate justice William Rehnquist while nominating Antonin Scalia at the same time.
Finally, on a personal note, I’d like to join Dale and Orin in congratulating David Stras on his appointment. I’ve known David for over ten years, and I have always been impressed by his intellect, open-mindedness, and good humor. He has insights beyond his years, and should be a significant asset to the Court. It’s a tremendous honor and opportunity for a legal academic to receive such an appointment, even if he will have to stand for re-election. That won’t be fun, but it can’t be much worse than grading exams.