|Written by Jon Lurie,
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Minnesota’s newest supreme court justice is also the first Native American to serve as a member of the state’s highest judicial body.
Hennepin County Judge Anne McKeig, 49, wept as Governor Mark Dayton announced her appointment in late June.
“Today is a historic day, not only for myself and for my family but for all Native people. It underscores the importance of one person leading so that another can follow,” McKeig, who is a descendant of the White Earth Nation, said during the proceedings.
McKeig, 49, recollected watching the 1995 swearing-in ceremony of Robert Blaeser, the state’s first judge from White Earth, calling it an inspiration that set in motion her own career path.
“It is people like him who have led the way that have allowed for others like me to dare to dream,” she said of Blaeser, who served nearly twenty years in Hennepin County District Court.
Dayton said in choosing a new justice he looked for “excellence, for proven public service, for people who have demonstrated that they have compassion, that they understand that even if it is not directly out of their own experience, the plight of so many Minnesotans. Diversity is part of that but, again, that’s no substitute for experience and excellence.
“I hope that she serves as an example to young people all over the state on what you can accomplish,” said Governor Dayton.
McKieg’s selection, Dayton has continued to expand the court’s
diversity. Dayton appointed Appeals Court Judge Margaret Chutich as the
first openly gay member of the Supreme Court. He also appointed three
African-American women to the high court. With the addition of McKeig
the court will have a female majority for the first time since 1991.
Governor Dayton, more Minnesotans can look at judges and see themselves
in the faces of those judges, adding to the accessibility of the court
and embracing the diversity that makes Minnesota great,” McKieg said.
appointment] is incredibly important because we have such a large urban
Indian population as well as a population that consists of the members
of the 11 tribes in Minnesota,” Phil Brodeen, president of the Minnesota
American Indian Bar Association told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “It’s
practical, not only for the experiences that she’s had, but also the
experience of litigants that get into in a Supreme Court case, and look
up and see a reflection of Minnesota, a Native American on the bench.”
“We are still near the bottom of every social and economic indicator in the state. We’ve traditionally been shut out of the upper echelons of government and decision-making, and we’re severely underrepresented on the state and federal court benches,” Brodeen said.
McKeig is from tiny Federal Dam in northern Minnesota, a town of just 101 residents southeast of Bemidji. She described her hometown as “two bars, two stop signs, a lot of fishermen.”
She credits a humble upbringing as one of the primary motivations for her success. “I grew up in rural Minnesota in challenging circumstances,” McKeig wrote to Dayton before he interviewed her for the job. “My passion for public service comes from seeing the enormous needs of my community.”
McKeig said she hopes that people in “the Federal Dams” of Minnesota realize with her appointment “that in Minnesota, the Supreme Court and all courts give access to everyone.”
McKeig’s father, she said, was “the blue collar, union man.” He died of diabetes at age 61. Her mother, who appeared at the announcement, was a Fulbright scholar raised in Bemidji.
McKeig graduated from the College of St. Catherine and received her law degree from Hamline University. She was an assistant Hennepin County attorney before former Governor Tim Pawlenty named her a judge in 2008. She served as a Hennepin County prosecutor for more than 15 years, where she worked for the Child Protection Division and was a specialist in Indian Child Welfare Act cases.
McKeig replaces Justice Christopher Dietzen, who will retire this summer after eight years on the Supreme Court. Gubernatorial court appointments in Minnesota do not require legislative confirmation, but members of the bench do have to stand for election. Since McKeig will take over Dietzen’s unfinished term, she would have to run for election to the seat in 2018.