Former state Rep. Paul Thissen donned a black robe and joined the Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday, the only former legislator among the justices currently serving on the state’s highest court.
Thissen, appointed earlier this year by Gov. Mark Dayton, said at his swearing-in ceremony that he’ll use that experience and time listening to residents across the state to guide his work in his new role.
“It is an honor to be joining all of you,” he told a crowd of judges at the ceremony. “This court sets a very high standard of collegiality and a willingness to work together that is really too rare these days.”
He’s the 95th associate justice named to the court and the only one to have served in the Legislature and on the court in the same calendar year. Thissen succeeds David Stras, who left the Minnesota court after being appointed to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Donald Trump.
Thissen’s arrival on the court solidifies a five-member progressive majority on the seven-member court that’s likely to endure long after the governor leaves office in January.
“He’s one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, honest and honorable public officials … I have worked with throughout my career,” Dayton said of Thissen.
At the ceremony, former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz said Thissen “has never lost sight of the fact that he is deeply connected to the people of this state.”
The Minnesota Supreme Court is the highest court in the state, considered the last resort for cases in dispute. The court reviews petitions in about 700 cases a year.
This year, the court’s actions have included approving allowing cameras in the courtroom in certain cases, deciding that Victoria City Council members who violated the state Open Meeting Law dozens of times can’t be removed from office, and ruling, in part, for a group of Bloomington residents who sued the city after it adopted organized trash collection.
Thissen was sworn in in front of a crowd of a couple hundred Tuesday on a Bible held by his wife, Karen Wilson Thissen, who is executive vice president and general counsel at Ameriprise Financial, while his three children looked on.
Thissen, 51, graduated from Harvard University and the University of Chicago Law School. He then clerked for a member of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and served as an appellate-level public defender before entering private practice. He was a shareholder at the Twin Cities firm Briggs and Morgan before joining Ballard Spahr (formerly Lindquist & Vennum) in Minneapolis.
Thissen, a Minneapolis DFLer, was in the Legislature for 16 years, including five years as the leader of the DFL caucus and a stint as speaker of the House in 2013-14. He unsuccessfully ran for governor twice.
He is Dayton’s sixth Supreme Court appointment during his eight years in office. Five of the high court’s seven justices are Dayton appointees.
“They represent a better diversity of Minnesota, what Minnesota is today, than perhaps before,” Dayton said of the justices. “I want them to make their own best decisions … to do what’s right for Minnesota.”