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Minnesota Supreme Court

Attorneys of the Year: Justice Paul Anderson

Paul Anderson

Minnesota Supreme Court

Whatever’s next for Associate Justice Paul Anderson — and he said he hasn’t decided yet what that will be — chances are it will be something extraordinary, considering his diverse achievements so far.

Anderson turns 70 this year and must retire by May 31, after 19 years as a Minnesota Supreme Court justice and two years on the Court of Appeals.

He could make the argument that the mandatory retirement age should be raised, but that’s someone else’s battle to fight. He simply looks forward to the next phase, be it writing, teaching, travel, acting or “hard physical labor” — he’s a farm kid at heart.

“There’s a local university that put up a billboard saying ‘Come spend four years with us. It’ll be the best four years of your life.’ I felt that was such a disheartening message — that your life peaks during your four years in college,” he said.

“I am leaving the court at this stage because of mandatory retirement. And I would not say my last 21 years as an appellate judge have been the best years of my life. I’d say they’ve been the best 20 years so far.”

Looking back at 2012, Anderson played a pivotal role in opinions garnering national attention.

In State v. Beecroft, he authored an opinion holding that medical examiners are independent and should be available to prosecutors and defense attorneys alike. Anderson traced the historic role of medical examiners in Common Law England in his thorough, 66-page analysis.

In addition, in League of Women Voters Minnesota v. Ritchie, Anderson wrote a lengthy dissent, reminding Minnesotans that Thomas Jefferson said that in a constitutional democracy, all inherent power resides in the people. He exhorted them to educate themselves about a proposed constitutional amendment to require a photo ID to vote.

Those two opinions reflect Anderson’s keen interests in history and literature, often peppering his work with allusions, from Shakespeare to Stoppard.

But the primary goal has always been to be a “judge’s judge,” writing “clear, understandable opinions that reflect a whole lot of common sense.”

Asking Anderson to identify just one as a highlight from his judicial tenure is asking him to make “Sophie’s Choice.” Yet another allusion; clearly, he’s an avid reader.

Beyond his jurisprudence, Anderson is a frequent educator about the American justice system, whether it’s for an international student who visits the court, local high school students or as part of an international outreach effort. He’s traveled to four continents, and is now considering a return to China next fall to teach.

Last summer, he helped Tunisians draft a constitution and advised Libyans on conducting constituent assembly elections.

While in Libya, he and others met with Ambassador Christopher Stevens. After Stevens’ tragic murder a few months later, Anderson publicly chastised those who sought to exploit his death for political purposes — even though he knew speaking out would open him up to attack.

Simply put, it was the right thing to do — a mantra that’s guided him throughout his career.

Anderson quoted the film “The Winslow Boy” when he wrote in a concurrence in State v. Streif that, “It is easy to do justice, but much harder to do right.”

Anderson has always attempted to do both.

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