Long-tenured Justice Anderson to leave Minnesota Supreme Court in May

Associate Justice G. Barry Anderson laughs, right, during oral arguments.
Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice David L. Lillehaug (left) and Associate Justice G. Barry Anderson laugh during oral arguments at the Capitol in St. Paul on Aug. 28, 2017.
Leila Navidi | Star Tribune pool via AP 2017

Minnesota’s Supreme Court will see another significant retirement in May as Justice G. Barry Anderson leaves after nearly 20 years on the court.

Anderson is the longest-tenured current justice and the last to have gained his seat through the appointment of a Republican governor. He notified DFL Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday of his decision to step down on May 10, and Walz announced plans to fill the vacancy.

Anderson was appointed in 2004 by then-Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and was on the Court of Appeals for six years prior to that. He turns 70 in October, putting him at the mandatory retirement age.

In his letter, Anderson said it was an honor to serve for as long as he has. 

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“I have the greatest admiration for my colleagues on the Minnesota Supreme Court; the deliberative work of the court in making difficult decisions is both rewarding and challenging,” Anderson wrote. “We do not always agree, but I will leave the court as I found it, a judicial body composed of superb public servants dedicated to a collaborative process, seeking, within human limitations, to discharge our constitutional duties as best as circumstances allow.”

Walz thanked Anderson for his service and said he “has worked tirelessly to uphold the integrity and fairness of our justice system.”

He said he would detail the process for filling the seat in the coming weeks. Walz has named two justices since taking office and elevated a third, Natalie Hudson, to chief justice in 2023.

When Pawlenty left office in 2010, Republican appointees made up a high court majority. That began to change when Democrats won four consecutive governors’ races and gained the appointment power.

Despite their appointment by governors of a party, justices work hard to avoid the appearance they are influenced by politics. Minnesota’s court has seldom seen the kind of sharp partisan clashes seen in other states, including neighboring Wisconsin.

And while Minnesota justices are almost always appointed first — former Justice Alan Page got there by direct election in 1992 — they must periodically stand for election for terms that can run six years at a time.

At least four justice seats were slated to be decided by voters this year already. But judicial incumbents seldom face significant opposition and justices tend to leave on their terms.

When Walz picks a new justice, that person won’t have to face voters until 2026 given the proximity to this year’s election.

A lawyer prior to joining the bench, Anderson was formerly active in Republican politics. He took interest in civic engagement, including a stint as host of a public television show called “Your Legislators.” He’s also an avid sports fan, posting regularly on social media about his elation or frustration with Minnesota Vikings and Twins performances.

For a time, Anderson was one of three justices with that last name on the court, prompting one colleague to joke about the distinct possibility of an Anderson majority. The other two preceded G. Barry Anderson in retirement.

Anderson said he would mark his last day in May by speaking at an admission ceremony for new lawyers that is to be held in the Capitol.

“I cannot imagine a better or more appropriate way to mark the end of my service on the court,” Anderson wrote.