The U.S. Senate has confirmed Minneapolis attorney Jerry Blackwell to be a U.S. district judge for the District of Minnesota. The vote Wednesday evening was 51-43.
Nominated in June by President Joe Biden, Blackwell is a founding partner of the law firm Blackwell Burke. He worked pro bono as he helped prosecute former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, delivering a powerful rebuttal during the state’s closing arguments.
After Chauvin’s attorney told jurors that an enlarged heart may have contributed to Floyd’s death, Blackwell left jurors with these final words: “You were told … that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big. … The truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin’s heart was too small.”
Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter and sentenced to 22½ years in prison. He later pleaded guilty to a federal count of violating Floyd’s rights and was sentenced to 21 years on that count, to be served concurrently.
In 2020, Blackwell also won a posthumous pardon for Max Mason, a Black man who was convicted of raping a white Duluth woman in 1920. The alleged rape led a white mob to lynch three other Black men.
Blackwell, who will become the third Black jurist on Minnesota’s federal bench, has spent most of his career in private practice. After working at other prestigious firms, he became a founding partner in his current one, Blackwell Burke, in 2006.
“So proud of my friend Jerry Blackwell,” Attorney General Keith Ellison wrote on Twitter. “His intellect, heart, and professional & life experience mean he will apply justice with fairness & compassion for everyone. Folks saw his passion & brilliance during the Chauvin trial. He will do all of us proud.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar tweeted, “Jerry Blackwell is a widely respected member of the Minnesota legal community. He brings decades of experience to the bench, including prosecuting Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. I was proud to vote yes on his bipartisan confirmation as a U.S. District Court Judge.”
And Sen. Tina Smith tweeted, “Jerry Blackwell’s confirmation is an exciting event for Minnesota. His dedication to equal justice and distinguished record as a leader in Minnesota’s legal community make him exceptionally well-qualified to serve as U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Minnesota.”
Minnesota Lawyer staff contributed to this report.