A historic announcement this morning for Minnesota's highest court: Justice Natalie Hudson will rise to the role of Minnesota Supreme Court Chief.
This makes her the first chief justice of color and the first Democratic-appointed judicial branch leader in 25 years. Hudson will replace long-serving Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, who will retire in October after 13 years.
Gov. Tim Walz also announced he will select his former office general counsel Karl Procaccini to fill Hudson’s associate justice slot.
MPR News correspondent Brian Bakst joined MPR News Host Cathy Wurzer to talk about the appointees and their records.
Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.
We attempt to make transcripts for Minnesota Now available the next business day after a broadcast. When ready they will appear here.
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Governor Tim Walz also announced he will select his former office general counsel, Karl Procaccini, to fill the associate justice slot that Hudson held. Joining us to talk more about these new appointments is MPR News political reporter Brian Bakst. Hey, Brian. This was a pretty big--
BRIAN BAKST: Hi, Cathy.
CATHY WURZER: --announcement today. Hi. Give us some background on Justice Hudson.
BRIAN BAKST: Yeah, she's been on the state's Supreme Court since 2015 after being appointed by then-governor Mark Dayton. But she's been an appellate judge for far longer than that, dating to 2002. And prior to that, Hudson held a variety of positions in public law and private practice. And she served for a time as an assistant law school dean at the former Hamline Law School, now known as Mitchell Hamline.
CATHY WURZER: So she has been around for quite some time, as you say. For folks who are not familiar with the role of chief justice, what does that person do?
BRIAN BAKST: Yeah, Hudson will be the de facto head of the judicial branch, not just hold down the middle seat in the Supreme Court hearings. That means helping set policy, going to the legislature around budget time, and making other key decisions for the branch as a whole. She'll also be on the Board of Pardons, joining the governor and attorney general in deciding when to clear records. The law around pardons changed this year to reduce the need for unanimous decisions in all cases, but it's still the first time that there will be a Democratic-appointed chief justice at that table since 1998.
CATHY WURZER: We're going to play a little bit of tape here. Since she was first appointed, she has said that she is committed to fairness in the courtroom, not just the correct legal outcome. Here's what she said when she spoke to MPR-- this was back in 2015, when she was first appointed, and was asked about justice being a process.
NATALIE HUDSON: I think people can often live with a result, even if that result is not the one that they wanted or is a negative result, if they feel like the process has been fair and that they've been heard and had an opportunity to express their views and that those views were taken seriously. And so that's what I mean about process.
CATHY WURZER: See, Brian, has the justice stuck with that sentiment during her time on the bench?
BRIAN BAKST: Yeah, Hudson is widely respected for the way she comes off. She's measured, thoughtful, and sharp with her questions. She doesn't browbeat attorneys. And she's known, along with other justices, to go on the road to give speeches and otherwise demystify the court process. The statements reacting to Hudson's appointment have come from across the board, including current chief justice Lorie Gildea. She praised Hudson's collegial spirit and unparalleled work ethic and says she'll be leaving the judiciary in good hands.
CATHY WURZER: What major opinions has she written in her career so far?
BRIAN BAKST: Yeah, Minnesota Supreme Court justices share the load in dozens upon dozens of decisions each year. And most of the court's actions are unanimous, but a couple come to mind. She wrote the majority opinion in a closely watched 2018 case around school segregation. The court reinstated a lawsuit against the state over the adequacy of public schools related to options available to parents seeking better outcomes for their children. And she wrote that the legislature can't shirk its duty to ensure that all students have access to quality education.
And I also remember her dissent in a major voting rights case this year. It related to restoring voting rights to non-incarcerated people still completing parts of their felony sentences. The court majority deferred to the legislature, but Hudson wrote that that was the wrong approach. She wrote in the dissent that the right to vote is too central to our democracy, and the constraints on that right are too perilous for us to ignore.
CATHY WURZER: I was thinking about Justice Hudson. Since she was appointed so long ago, does she not have a lot of time left on the bench, right?
BRIAN BAKST: Yeah, she's 66, and state law requires that judges, including Supreme Court justices, retire when they turn 70. And for Hudson, that's in January of 2027. So if you're doing the math, that's right as the term of Governor Tim Walz is ending. She'll have to decide if she'll leave early to give him another pick or let it ride to whomever wins the 2026 election for governor.
CATHY WURZER: So with this pick and then Karl Procaccini-- did I get that name right? Procaccini?
BRIAN BAKST: You did. You did.
CATHY WURZER: OK, what is the makeup of the court now?
BRIAN BAKST: So six of the seven justices were put on the court by Democratic governors, including two by Walz. The only remaining Republican appointee is Justice G. Barry Anderson. He hits retirement age in October of 2024.
CATHY WURZER: All right. Brian Bakst, thanks so much.
BRIAN BAKST: You're welcome, Cathy.
CATHY WURZER: Brian is one of our political reporters. By the way, the governor will be introducing Justice Natalie Hudson as the chief at 2:30 this afternoon during a news conference. Be sure to listen to All Things Considered today from 3:00 until 6:00 to hear the highlights.
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