Gov. Mark Dayton will chose whether to pick his campaign attorney, a district court judge or one of two Appeals Court judges as the next Minnesota Supreme Court justice.
A panel on judicial selection included only the four among its picks to fill the spot made vacant by Justice Helen Meyer's upcoming retirement.
Prominent Democratic attorney David Lillehaug, who helped Dayton with his 2010 recount and U.S. Sen. Al Franken with his longer lasting 2008 recount, is in the group of recommended candidates. He is also a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota.
Lillehaug, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2000 against Dayton and others, has long been a fixture in Democratic politics, helping candidates with debate preparation, representing the party in this year's redistricting fight and handling the DFL's rules at state conventions.
If he is picked, it will continue a long line of campaign attorneys becoming justices. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, put Christopher Dietzen, who represented the former governor when Pawlenty broke state campaign rules, on the court when he was governor.
Appeals Court Judge Wilhelmina Wright is also on the list of potential appointees. She was an appointee of former Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura and was also considered by Pawlenty for a possible Supreme Court spot. Instead, Pawlenty picked Appeals Court Judge G. Barry Anderson, who was a Republican Party attorney before he joined the court.
Wright is a well respected jurist, who served a District Court Judge and as an Assistant United States Attorney when Lillehaug was U.S. Attorney, before she joined the bench.
The judicial selection panel also recommended District Court Judge Tanya Bransford, who helped found the Supreme Court’s Committee for Equality and Justice, and Appeals Court Judge Margaret Chutich, who also served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney when Lillehaug led the office, as potential replacements for Meyer. Bransford was initially appointed by Republican Gov. Arne Carlson; Chutich was appointed last year by Dayton.
Picking Wright, Bransford or Chutich would allow Dayton to replace a female justice with a female justice. When Meyer retires, the only woman left on the Supreme Court will be Lorie Gildea, the chief justice.
Dayton's spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci offered no guarantee that Dayton would pick from only among the four recommended candidates, noting that there is no rule or law that requires him to do so.
In Minnesota Supreme Court picks do not need legislative confirmation but must stand for re-election to stay on the court. Typically, retiring justices time their departures to allow governors to appoint a replacement so that races for the court without an incumbent are rare.