Updated 3:45 p.m. | Posted 10:22 a.m.
Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday appointed Judge Anne McKeig to the Minnesota Supreme Court, making her the first American Indian to serve on the court, which will have a female majority.
McKeig, 49, is presiding judge in Hennepin County family court. She previously worked as an assistant Hennepin County attorney, specializing in child protection and Indian child welfare cases.
"I am humbled by the opportunity to continue working to deliver justice for all Minnesotans in this extremely important role," she told reporters after being named to the state's highest court.
McKeig was appointed to the district court bench in 2008 by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. She also works as an adjunct professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
McKeig grew up in Federal Dam, Minn., a tiny town near Leech Lake. She described herself as a "proud descendant of the White Earth Nation" and singled out retired Hennepin County Judge Robert Blaeser, the state's longest-serving American Indian district court judge, as her primary inspiration.
"It is people like him and his wife who have led the way, that have allowed for others like me to dare to dream. So today is a historic day, not only for myself and my family, but for all native people."
McKeig also highlighted the importance of equal access to the courts. She said it was a subject she stressed during her interview with the governor.
"He asked me what does Federal Dam think about the Supreme Court, and I said they would say that it's unreachable. I know that that's not true. I know that no one in the judiciary believes that," she said. "I hope that today is an opportunity for the entire judiciary to send that message to all of the Federal Dams."
Dayton picked McKeig from three candidates recommended by the Commission on Judicial Selection. The other finalists were Minnesota Court of Appeals Chief Judge Edward Cleary and St. Louis County Judge James Florey.
Standing alongside McKeig on Tuesday, Dayton said diversity has been an important consideration in his judicial selections, along with experience and excellence.
McKeig will be an outstanding associate justice, he added. "I hope that she serves as an example to young people all over the state of what you can accomplish."
Dayton, a Democrat, has been able to shape the state supreme court with multiple appointments during his nearly six years in office. Four of the seven justices will now be his picks.
A fifth Dayton appointee, Wilhelmina Wright, has since moved on to the federal bench.
DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich was the first to appoint a female majority to the court in 1991. Dayton said he was pleased to make it happen again.
"I think it's a special moment that it's now returned to four women and three men."
McKeig will replace Associate Justice Christopher Dietzen, who is retiring Aug. 31. Dietzen doesn't reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 until March. But he announced earlier this year that he would step down early rather than run for re-election in November.