MN Supreme Court race: quiet incumbent, loud challenger

Hudson and MacDonald
Justice Natalie Hudson and Michelle MacDonald are running for the Minnesota Supreme Court. Hudson is the incumbent and was appointed in 2015 by Gov. Mark Dayton.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

In the lone statewide race on the ballot in Minnesota this year the incumbent wants her record to speak for itself while the challenger is known for making noise.

Justice Natalie Hudson was appointed last year by Gov. Mark Dayton to fill a vacancy on the Minnesota Supreme Court after longtime Justice Alan Page retired. Hudson was sworn in last October and will now face voters.

Hudson served for 13 years on the Minnesota Court of Appeals before being tapped for the state's highest court. She's also had stints as a legal-aid lawyer, city attorney and law school administrator.

As a candidate, Hudson is stressing her experience and her temperament.

"Those are the qualities that I think the public needs to know are important when they're selecting a judge," she said. "I bring all that to the bench. I would just encourage the voting public to get out and make their voices heard."

"We can announce our political views, as can any challengers. But I still think that's inappropriate to do, and I think most judges do," Hudson said. "Most judges and justices do what I have done. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it."

Hudson's opponent is not imposing any such limitations.

Michelle MacDonald, an attorney who specializes in family law, is making her second Minnesota Supreme Court run. She narrowly lost to Associate Justice David Lillehaug in 2014. MacDonald doesn't see any reason to stay quiet about her views. She's pro-gun, anti-abortion and highly critical of the legal system.

"We need to be able to know our judges. They can't be a big secret anymore. We need to know what their views are," MacDonald said. "Why would that ever be considered a secret? Why would judges who are running not be able to talk about their positions on things? It doesn't make sense to me. It's, like, nonsensical."

Many voters may know MacDonald from news coverage the past two years. She won the Minnesota Republican Party endorsement in 2014. But GOP leaders later distanced themselves after learning of her 2013 arrest on suspicion of drunk driving. She was banned that year from the party's State Fair booth. A jury later found MacDonald not guilty of DUI, but convicted her for refusing to submit to a test and obstructing the legal process.

In another incident, MacDonald was handcuffed and jailed after a courtroom run-in with a Dakota County judge. A contempt charge was later dismissed. But an Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility complaint partly related to the same child custody case is still pending.

MacDonald, who did not get a Republican endorsement this year, contends that the unflattering coverage has included "misrepresentations" and in some cases "lies."

"I am who I am, with all my blemishes," she said. "Why are we pretending that other people who are judges on the bench don't have issues? I'm probably about as pristine an attorney as you're going to ever get."

MacDonald detailed her difficulties in a candidate questionnaire from the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Those questionnaires are part of the 15,000-member association's effort to help inform the public about Hudson and MacDonald before the election, said MSBA President Robin Wolpert.

The bar association does not endorse candidates. But a pre-primary poll of association members when the contest was a three-person race found overwhelming support for Hudson.

Hudson went on to win the primary election in August with 65 percent of the vote, compared to 20 percent for MacDonald.

The bar association doesn't want voters skipping over judicial races on the ballot, as they often do. Wolpert noted that in 2014 about 500,000 fewer votes were cast for Minnesota Supreme Court than for governor.

"We don't need to tell people how to vote," Wolpert said. "Instead, we can educate people and give people the information they need. We trust our voters."