Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday appointed Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Natalie E. Hudson to the state’s Supreme Court, elevating a jurist described as moderate with a reputation for plainly stated legal opinions.
Hudson, 58, has served on the appellate court since 2002, when former Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed her to the bench. She will succeed Justice Alan Page, who reached the state's mandatory retirement age of 70 earlier in August. Page has served on the state’s highest court for more than two decades.
Dayton, who has now appointed three members to the state’s Supreme Court, praised Hudson for her record as an appellate judge, authoring more than 1,000 legal opinions. He underscored his selection of Hudson by reading a passage from her cover letter.
“Justice is not simply a result,” Hudson wrote. “It is a process that must have both the perception and the reality of justice for everyone who sets foot in our courts. Thus, as judges our role is not simply to reach the correct legal result but to ensure that all parties are treated fairly and respectfully as well. We should never lose sight of the fact that behind each legal issue we encounter are real human lives, lives that will be greatly impacted by the decisions we make.”
Dayton said that the other two candidates who were in the running for the Supreme Court vacancy were well-qualified but said Hudson’s 13 years of experience as an appellate court judge made her stand out. Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Margaret H. Chutich, appointed in 2011, and Minneapolis City Attorney Susan L. Segal were also under consideration.
Hudson is the second black woman to be appointed to the court, after Justice Wilhelmina M. Wright, who was appointed by Dayton in 2012. Wright is currently waiting to be confirmed to serve on the U.S. District Court for Minnesota, leaving Dayton potentially a fourth vacancy to fill on the seven member panel.
As a judge on the state’s appellate court, Hudson has been involved in some high-profile decisions.
She and two other appellate court judges ruled in 2006 that the heirs of the co-pilot on the flight that killed U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone could not sue the company that operated the aircraft. Hudson was also part of a three-judge panel in 2008 that ruled against former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who sought to withdraw his guilty plea in 2007. Craig had pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge after he was arrested for allegedly soliciting sex from an undercover officer in a bathroom stall at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Peter Knapp, a William Mitchell College of Law professor, said Hudson’s background as a former assistant attorney general and city attorney means she brings a variety of experience to the Supreme Court.
“She will bring a really solid understanding of Minnesota law with her to the bench,” Knapp said.
He added: “One of the things that really stands about her jurisprudence [is] she has a very straightforward writing style and is very attuned to the common sense practical implications of her decisions … that will be a great benefit to her.”
Knapp specifically pointed out her decision in a 2013 appellate court ruling that said a guardian can end life-support systems for a ward without additional court intervention. Hudson’s ruling overturned a lower court’s decision, and the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld her ruling the following year.
“She did a very good job moving through the issues with sensitivity and a great deal of thoughtfulness,” Knapp said.
Hudson on Tuesday was flanked by her husband, the Rev. Willie Hudson, and her mother, as she thanked Dayton for his appointment.
“I promise to do what I have always done as a judge, and that is to read the record carefully, read the briefs carefully, to listen carefully at oral argument, to be as prepared as I possibly can be and most of all to treat all of those that come before our court with the utmost respect and dignity that they deserve,” Hudson said.
Dayton had previously said he wanted to preserve the diversity of the state’s Supreme Court. Page and Hudson are black, but Dayton said Hudson’s qualifications should outweigh any suggestion that her race played a role in her appointment.
Hudson’s experience includes stints as an assistant attorney general in the state’s Criminal Appeals and Health Licensing Divisions. She has also spent time in private practice and worked as an attorney for the Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services after graduating from the University of Minnesota School of Law. She is also a member of the American Bar Association’s Judicial Division and also serves on the Minnesota Women Lawyer’s Advisory Board.
She is expected to join the court later this fall.