Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Natalie Hudson will be the new chief justice, Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday, making her the first person of color to lead the state judiciary.

The governor called Hudson a leader, consensus-builder and a steady hand with strong conviction who would maintain the court's independence. "I know that she is going to be outstanding," Walz said.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan noted that of the state's 21 previous chief justices, only two were women and none was a person of color. "Every Minnesotan should celebrate this appointment," Flanagan said.

To fill the vacancy created by Hudson's elevation, Walz announced the appointment of his former general counsel, Karl Procaccini, to the seven-member court. Procaccini, 40, has not served as a judge and left Walz's office in June. The governor called Procaccini "one of Minnesota's brightest legal minds" and said he interviewed no one else.

He did, however, interview both Hudson and Justice Anne McKeig for the chief position. Now Hudson, 66, will succeed Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, who announced her retirement from the bench in June and will step down Oct. 1.

Like others, Hudson said she was surprised by Gildea's departure and pondered whether to apply. "I had to give it a lot of thought and a lot of prayer," she said, adding that she determined it was a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

The chief justice runs the state's highest court and heads the judicial branch across 87 counties and the appellate courts. Hudson will oversee the expansion of cameras in courtrooms starting in January because of a state Supreme Court decision earlier this year.

Hudson's career has spanned public and private practice, and academia.

In 2018, she wrote a majority opinion allowing a school segregation case to proceed.

At her swearing-in to the high court in 2015, Hudson said, "How we treat those on the margins of society, those with no lobbying group, says volumes about our character and values as a judicial system."

In June 2002, Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed Hudson to the state Court of Appeals where she remained for 13 years, writing more than 1,000 opinions.

In 2015, Gov. Mark Dayton appointed her to the state Supreme Court as successor to Alan Page, the state's first Black justice.

Peter Knapp, Mitchell Hamline School of Law professor, called it a strong appointment. "She's a delightful person but more to the point she is an excellent judge," he said. "It's good for the court. It's good for the judicial branch and it's good for the state."

Knapp said Hudson is up to the task of succeeding Gildea as administrator of the court internally and as the emissary to the public and other branches of government. He said she doesn't dissent a lot.

"She is sensitive to the rights of defendants in criminal cases but I think she has a balanced approach in all of her work," Knapp said. "She is a person who follows the law closely and applies it in a fair and principled way."

With newer justices on the court and more to come, Hudson will be a steady force during a transition period, Knapp said.

As evidence of her ability to reach consensus, he cited a splintered decision a year ago regarding the murder-suicide of a west metro family of five. Hudson wrote the majority in the matter involving the estate of Brian Short, who shot his wife and three children after receiving mental health treatment from Park Nicollet Health Services. The majority sent the case back for a jury to consider.

Hudson graduated from Mounds View High School and Arizona State University before earning her law degree from the University of Minnesota. She worked in the criminal appellate division of the state Attorney General's Office and as an assistant dean at Hamline University School of Law. She also worked in civil litigation, as the St. Paul city attorney and with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services.

She's won statewide election many times, including last year. Hudson will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 in January 2027, potentially allowing Walz to appoint her successor as chief. He declined to say whether he had discussed the timing of her eventual retirement.

Hudson's not the first groundbreaker in her family. Her late father, Don Hudson, became the first Black football coach at a predominantly white school when he took the head job at Macalester College in 1971.

The new chief justice is married to the Rev. Willie Hudson, the retired pastor of St. John's Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis and past chaplain coordinator for the St. Paul Police Department.

Procaccini was a less conventional choice for the court. He spent four years in the governor's office and helped craft executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. He left the governor's office in June to take a temporary position as a visiting professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

In his comments, Procaccini praised three of his mentors: U.S. District Judge Michael Davis; the late Diana Murphy, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit judge; and former state Supreme Court Justice David Lillehaug, whom he met at a conference before moving to Minnesota for a clerkship.

"It's been known for years that he's a comer on the Minnesota legal scene. He's really smart with really good judgment," Lillehaug said.

Procaccini earned a degree from Harvard Law School in 2010, clerked for the two judges and worked for several years at the Greene Espel firm in Minneapolis, becoming a partner. He is a native of Connecticut with an undergraduate degree in social studies from Harvard and a degree in international law from the American University in Cairo.

"It certainly feels daunting, but I think I'm ready," Procaccini said of the appointment.

Of Procaccini, Knapp said, "He's got a great reputation as a lawyer and is undoubtedly someone the governor trusts."

Procaccini is married to Dr. Nayla Hamdi, a psychologist in the Minneapolis VA Health Care System. He converted to Islam when he married his wife and becomes the first Muslim on the high court.

Environmentalists and Republicans were critical of him for different reasons. While in private practice, he represented PolyMet in its fight to mine in northern Minnesota. Republicans said he was the architect of what they see as too-restrictive state COVID-19 policies.

Procaccini said he would recuse himself from cases involving work he did for former clients.

The appointments do not require confirmation. Both will be on the ballot in November 2024.

Since taking office in 2019, Walz has appointed two new justices to the court. In addition to Procaccini, he appointed Justice Gordon Moore in 2020. Procaccini's appointment tips the gender balance of the court to four men and three women.

At the Capitol announcement in the rotunda, praise flowed to Gildea, who was appointed to the court by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and elevated to chief in 2010.

In her brief remarks, Gildea recalled a line from Paul Newman in the movie "The Verdict": "The court exists to give the people a chance at justice." Adding to that, Gildea said, "That is the work we've been about."

She thanked Minnesotans for every day she was chief. "It has been a blast," Gildea said.

The appointments are unlikely to be the last for Walz. Justice G. Barry Anderson will reach mandatory retirement age in October 2024. He declined to say Wednesday when he might step down.

Of the remaining justices, Dayton appointed Margaret Chutich, McKeig and Paul Thissen.

Star Tribune staff writer Chloe Johnson contributed to this report.