Dayton MN Supreme Court pick is court's first openly gay justice

Judge Margaret Chutich and Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton named Minnesota Appeals Court Judge Margaret Chutich to the state's highest court Friday.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Updated 10:20 a.m. | Posted 9:27 a.m.

Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday unveiled a groundbreaking pick to the Minnesota Supreme Court, naming Minnesota Appeals Court Judge Margaret Chutich to the state's highest court, making her its first openly gay justice.

Chutich was a finalist the last time Dayton selected a Supreme Court justice. He first appointed her to the Court of Appeals in 2011. She is a former assistant dean at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs and has worked in the state attorney general's office and as a federal prosecutor.

In Minnesota, governors have sole discretion in naming judges. While they must periodically stand for election, they don't require legislative confirmation.

Dayton said he was aware of the groundbreaking nature of his choice but told reporters, "I would have picked her regardless of that consideration."

Chutich said she was looking forward to serving Minnesota in her new post. During the announcement, she recognized Penny Wheeler, her partner of 20 years and wife of two years.

"I was born and raised in Minnesota, so serving on this court is meaningful to me," Chutich said.

The symbolism of being the high court's first openly gay justice "is very important" and reflects the court's need to embody its citizenry, she added. "If there are gay attorneys, gay people thinking about going to law school, I think it's important that they know there aren't barriers to their dreams."

Dayton has now named four members to the seven-seat court. Three of them are women. But one, Justice Wilhelmina Wright is leaving to join the federal bench. Chutich replaces Wright.

While Chutich is a pioneering appointment in Minnesota, the highest courts in Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Vermont have had openly gay justices.

Dayton on Friday also named Hennepin County District Judge Diane Bratvold to replace Chutich on the state appeals court.