For years, the face of diversity in Minnesota’s court system was former pro football player
But apart from Page, one of the Vikings’ famed “Purple People Eaters,” minority judges -- and women -- were a rarity in
One of Gov. Tim Walz’s broad campaign themes last year was to make his administration’s appointments more reflective of the state’s shifting demographics. With the recent appointment of two
More than a third of the 14 district and appellate judges appointed overall by the governor have been people of color, according to data obtained from the governor’s office. More than half have been women.
For the first-term DFL governor, selecting judges represents one of the less splashy but most consequential responsibilities of the office, a quiet process that takes place outside of the noisy legislative battles over taxes, road money and health care.
“This will be some of the most lasting things that you do,” Walz said in a recent interview.
The shifting racial composition of the state’s courts comes amid a growing national awareness of the role race plays in policing, sentencing and incarceration. The governor’s first year of judicial selection is in marked contrast with the record of President
Walz’s predecessor, former DFL Gov.
Three decades ago, barely 1 of every 10 judges in
That includes state Supreme Court Justice
But the growing diversity in Minnesota’s courtrooms traces to decisions made long before judicial candidates’ résumés fall on the governor’s desk. In
Walz acknowledges that he doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of the legal community and is leaning heavily on the commission and its new chairwoman,
Velazquez-Aguilu, who also worked during the Dayton administration to train prospective judicial candidates, said she’s seen many qualified minority candidates initially overlooked. One of her first initiatives was to train the commission’s members on recognizing the implicit biases that can curb candidates of color’s chances.
One training exercise is based on a 2014 study that found the same piece of legal writing rated differently depending on whether reviewers were told it was authored by a black or white attorney. Velazquez-Aguilu also sought to ask candidates the same set of questions during interviews to eliminate subjective biases. Under Velazquez-Aguilu, the commission is also asking applicants to submit writing samples that are graded blindly.
“It’s not to tilt the scales in favor of any one group of people,” Velazquez-Aguilu said. “It’s to even the scales. It’s to level the playing field. It’s to eliminate the sort of unfairness that has held certain communities back, and it’s to clear a path so that we can truly allow the best person forward.”
The process has so far yielded appointments like
“These are far more than just bench positions,” Walz said. “They are pillars of the community that are viewed as being critical.”
“Sometimes that can be an insular process -- so if you have a 60-year-old white male on the commission who’s going to call his friends, they’re many times looking like him and it’s hard to have the inclusion you desire without breaking out of those networks,” Bryan said.
Velazquez-Aguilu previously led the state chapter of the
“They need somebody else to say, ‘you’re ready, it’s time, you’ve done enough,’?” Velazquez-Aguilu said.
“That’s a remarkable change,” Gildea said. “There are certainly more female attorneys now, and I think there has been a really deliberate effort to recruit women to these positions and to appoint qualified women to these positions under this administration and under prior administrations.”
“It used to be that judicial candidates and their supporters would lobby the governor directly for their appointment,” Soule said. “Now the governor doesn’t have to be susceptible to that because each of the governors have used the commission exclusively or almost exclusively.”
Walz said he is now beginning to plan for what will be his first
“That’s not true,” said Bryan, the
(c)2019 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.