Wright's time: Minnesota Supreme Court justice ready for federal bench

Judge Wilhelmina Wright
Judge Wilhelmina Wright testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing Wednesday morning in Washington, D.C.
Video screen grab via Senate Judiciary Committee

Updated 12:25 p.m. | Posted 10:06 a.m.

Judge Wilhelmina Wright first learned about the law by watching her mother fight public school segregation in Virginia. It set Wright on a path that will soon lead from the Minnesota Supreme Court to a federal judgeship.

Wright, 51, sat for a hearing this morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is expected to back her nomination to the federal court and pave the way for full Senate approval.

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Wright's youth in Norfolk, Va., in the 1960s and '70s helped lead her to a life in the law.

At that time her school district was still coming to terms with Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 decision that struck down racial segregation in schools.

"It was my mother's sheer determination to say, 'The Supreme Court said it, my children deserve to benefit from this court order and I am going to work hard to ensure that my children get the benefit of a desegregated and quality education,'" Wright said in 2012 when she was tapped for the Minnesota Supreme Court. "So my mother stood toe-to-toe with the superintendent of the Norfolk Public Schools."

"She is ready to fill the position the first day on the job," Minnesota DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said during opening statements Wednesday morning on Wright's nomination. Klobuchar noted that Wright has support from Republicans and Democrats and received the American Bar Association's highest approval.

Her credentials are unquestioned. A former assistant U.S. attorney for Minnesota, she's the only person in Minnesota history to serve on all three levels of the judiciary — state district court, state appellate court and Minnesota Supreme Court, Minnesota DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken said Wednesday. "She understands the state and knows its people."

Wright told senators that she knows the importance of writing decisions that are carefully analyzed and clearly written.

"One of my goals as a judge is to author an opinion or an order that the party themselves, the person who's bringing their case to the court can understand, that's not in legalese, that doesn't have to be translated by their lawyer," she said.

Wright, the first African-American female justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court, will replace retiring Justice Michael Davis on the U.S. District Court for Minnesota.

MPR News reporter Tim Pugmire contributed to this report.