Here are two decisions Minnesota voters can make with supreme confidence on Nov. 4: They can elect David Lillehaug and Wilhelmina Wright to the state Supreme Court.
Wright and Lillehaug have been serving ably on the state's highest court since 2012 and 2013, respectively, appointed to fill vacancies there by Gov. Mark Dayton. They come before voters next month for the first time, seeking six-year terms.
Each arrived at the court following a distinguished and varied legal career. Each is articulate and intelligent, with the firm and respectful temperament that befits those who apply and give life to the law, the great equalizer in a free society.
Lillehaug, 60, was U.S. attorney for Minnesota — the federal government's chief prosecutor here — from 1994 to 1998. His private legal practice was diverse, and he gained prominence through his frequent work litigating important and well-publicized cases involving election recounts, a government shutdown and constitutional controversies. Throughout these efforts, his skills in the courtroom and as a legal thinker and communicator have been conspicuous.
Lillehaug's political ties to the DFL Party are also clear. Yet many — most — judges have politics in their backgrounds. Lillehaug has earned hearty endorsements from a stellar assortment of judges, lawyers and public officials across the political spectrum, who are confident that in his new role Lillehaug has — as he told the Star Tribune Editorial Board — "left politics behind." We share that confidence, and believe Lillehaug's legal acumen and, yes, political savvy will now serve all Minnesotans well and impartially from the bench.
Lillehaug's opponent, private attorney Michelle MacDonald, 52, has gained a peculiar prominence since winning the state Republican Party's ill-considered endorsement last spring. She has been in a monthslong dispute with the party since legal trouble surfaced. In September, MacDonald was convicted in Dakota County for resisting arrest and refusing a sobriety test when suspected of impaired driving last April. Meanwhile, nothing in MacDonald's background or message suggests she is qualified for the office she seeks. The GOP must re-evaluate the process that produced this result.
Wilhelmina Wright, 50, served as a federal prosecutor, a private attorney representing school districts, a district court judge and a judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals before Dayton named her to the Supreme Court. She is the first Minnesota jurist to serve at all three levels of the state judiciary.
Wright's exceptional range of experience positions her well to enrich high court deliberations with a firsthand understanding for lower court realities — for the "touch and feel," as she puts it, of the real life troubles and issues that reach appellate judges in the "cold record" of proceedings. A decade on the appeals court honed her gracious temperament and skills in collegial debate and decisionmaking. She gives welcome voice to an eloquent empathy for the ordinary people the law serves and a focus on the importance of predictability and clarity in legal rulings.
Wright's opponent, John Hancock, declined to take part in the Star Tribune's endorsement process.
David Lillehaug and Wilhelmina Wright are not simply the best choices in these races. Each is an exceptional asset on the court. Voters should keep them there.