The commission under Gov. Mark Dayton did just that. When more than half (55 percent) of the judges on the bench retired during the commission’s tenure, that gave the commission an opportunity to carry out the governor’s mandate: to create a judiciary that better reflected the demographics of the state.
It also gave the commission a big job to do. “That created a workload that no commission had ever faced,” says Lee Sheehy, chair of the commission. During the governor’s tenure, the 49-member commission interviewed more than 1,000 candidates, and filled 175 vacancies within the 75-day window mandated by the statute.
Sheehy and the rest of the commission had to not only recruit, screen, and interview potential judges, but they also had to work with affinity bar associations such as the women’s, Hispanic, and black bar associations to develop a much more diverse pipeline of qualified candidates.
By the end, diversity on the bench had increased considerably. There were also many firsts: the first female African American, Native American, and openly gay Supreme Court justices; the first Latino Court of Appeals judge; and the first Hmong judge in state history.
Sheehy hopes that the Committee’s work will continue to show that diversity-inclined mindset. “Maintaining that demographic diversity requires constant attention,” he says.
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