Gov. Tim Walz on Friday went outside of the metro legal community to make a Worthington judge his first state Supreme Court appointee.

Nobles County District Judge Gordon Moore, also a former top prosecutor in the southwest Minnesota community, will likely be the only Supreme Court selection of Walz’s current term. He will replace the retiring Justice David Lillehaug, who steps down July 31.

Lillehaug, a former U.S. attorney appointed to the Supreme Court in 2013, announced plans to retire last year following a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.

Asked about replacing one white male jurist with another, the governor said the selection of Moore would inject geographic diversity into the Supreme Court.

“I think the question on diversity on the courts is one that’s always there and plays into our decision, but not in its totality,” Walz said. “This was the right pick and I feel confident that Judge Moore brings that unique perspective and in this case it is a perspective of living in greater Minnesota for the last quarter-century.”

Interviews for the post were conducted this spring by a panel made up of members of the Commission on Judicial Selection and key Walz administration staff, including the state’s chief inclusion officer.

Moore, 57, grew up in Rochester and lived in Northfield and Mankato before moving to Worthington to raise a family in 1995. Before becoming Nobles County attorney, Moore served as a special assistant and assistant attorney general under state Attorney General Skip Humphrey and was an associate and assistant city attorney in Worthington.

Moore spoke Friday of his experience in southwest Minnesota, particularly the increasingly diverse city of Worthington. He acknowledged that the rural community “has frankly had some difficulty recently,” but added, “we’ll rise up and we’ll solve this and we’ll get beyond this.”

“The Worthington story is really a microcosm of the bigger story that our state is undergoing,” Moore said. “The transformation of Worthington over the past 25 years has just been extraordinary. We are one of the most diverse communities in the state and we pride ourselves on that.”

Moore was picked from a field of four finalists that also included Court of Appeals Judges Diane Bratvold and Jeffrey Bryan and Chief Deputy Attorney General John Keller.

Lola Velazquez-Aguilu, chair of the state Commission on Judicial Selection, praised Moore’s experience as a jurist in a greater Minnesota courtroom serving a population where as many as 18 different languages are spoken.

“Everybody talked about the fact that Judge Moore brings a really profound cultural competence to the courtroom,” said Velazquez-Aguilu, describing letters of recommendation from local legal groups, interpreters and defense attorneys. “He finds a way to make everyone feel like they can understand the process and that the process is accessible to them no matter the barriers.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea called Moore’s selection “an excellent appointment.”

“Judge Moore brings a passion for the law and has demonstrated a deep commitment to the judiciary and to serving the public,” Gildea said. She also praised Lillehaug, calling him a “wonderful colleague who has greatly enriched our decisionmaking.”

Peter Knapp, interim president and dean of Mitchell Hamline School of Law, said Moore’s experience as a judge in greater Minnesota would have forced him to become adept at overseeing a wide swath of cases. That experience should aid the Supreme Court as it navigates the administration of justice amid the coronavirus pandemic, Knapp said.

“Bringing someone in with that kind of experience to the court at this moment in history I think is very important,” said Knapp, a scholar who has closely watched the Supreme Court.

John Tunheim, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Minnesota, hired Moore out of law school to join the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. A Thief River Falls native, Tunheim welcomed news of a non-metro addition to the Supreme Court on Friday.

“I like the fact that he brings a district court judge’s perspective to the Supreme Court and I think it’s important that he spent much of his career in greater Minnesota,” Tunheim said. “I think that’s a perspective that’s needed on the court, and he’ll be a terrific jurist.”

Correction: Previous versions of this article misidentified the hometown of John Tunheim.