MN-Sen: Who Sits on the Minnesota Supreme Court

04/10/2009 03:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It was announced this week that the Minnesota Supreme Court's Chief Justice Eric J. Magnuson and Justice G. Barry Anderson will recuse themselves from any appeal before the state Supreme Court regarding the Minnesota Senate race. They are, quite responsibly, doing this because they served on the statewide Canvassing Board earlier in the post-election process. The Minnesota Independent's Paul Demko offers the following political analysis of the recusals:

The absence of Magnuson and Anderson from any appeal deliberations is potentially another blow to Norm Coleman's (already slim) prospects at prevailing in the state courts. Both justices were appointed by Republican governors.

That naturally got me thinking, who else sits on the Minnesota Supreme Court? The Court has seven members. Currently, Justices are elected in staggered, non-partisan elections to six-year terms, unless a vacancy occurs in the middle of a term (in which case, a gubernatorial appointment occurs). In addition to the two recusing themselves, there are Justice Alan C. Page, Justice Paul H. Anderson, Justice Helen M. Meyer, Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea, Justice Christopher J. Dietzen. What do we know about the possible partisan leanings of these five Justices?

Justice Christopher J. Dietzen has the clearest partisan background of any of the Justices, and he appears to lean Republican (emphasis added by me):

He was appointed to the court by Governor Tim Pawlenty after the resignation of Justice Sam Hanson. Before joining the Supreme Court, Dietzen served as a judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals from 2004-2008. He was likewise appointed to that judgship by Governor Pawlenty, and then elected to it in 2006. ...

Dietzen also served as an attorney for Pawlenty during his gubernatorial campaign in 2002.

So, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's campaign lawyer is one of the five judges that will decide Republican Norm Coleman's appeal. Nothing wrong with that.

Although Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea didn't work (so far as I know) as a campaign lawyer for a Republican statewide candidate for office in Minnesota, she was also appointed to the state Supreme Court by Republican Gov. Pawlenty. Also, Gildea's husband, Andy, is "a top staffer in the Minnesota House Republican Caucus." So, that's two out of five appointed by Republican Pawlenty.

Justice Paul H. Anderson was appointed to the Court in 1994 by Republican former Gov. Arne Carlson. This Minnesota Public Radio story describes Anderson as "active in Republican politics."

Justice Helen M. Meyer was a Jesse Ventura appointee.

Justice Alan C. Page was never appointed; he was first elected to an open seat on the state Supreme Court in 1992. However, in the mid-80's, he was appointed to multiple roles in the state Attorney General's office under Democratic then-Attorney General Hubert "Skip" Humphrey III. Further, Page's name was raised early in the 2006 cycle as a possible Democratic candidate for Senate, coincidentally.

So that's how the judges who will rule on Republican Norm Coleman's appeal break down. Three are Republican appointees (at least two of whom have been active in Republican politics, and the third of whom has a spouse who is a top staffer for state Republicans). One is an independent appointee, for whom I am unable to find indications of partisan leanings. And just one of the five appears to be Democratically-inclined.

Does this mean that I expect the three Republicans to rule in Coleman's favor? Absolutely not. Given how professionally run the entire post-election process has been and how devoid of partisanship the Canvassing Board members and three-judge panel members appear to have been, I am hopeful that the appeal before the state Supreme Court will similarly proceed with neither passion nor prejudice (nor partisan agenda).

That said, if/when Norm Coleman loses his appeal before the state Supreme Court, Republicans won't be able to suggest that Coleman didn't get a fair hearing on partisan grounds. And, when Republican blowhards suggest that Senator-elect Al Franken is "stealing" their Senate seat away from them, this will stand as yet another reason that they are full of it.