Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Christopher Dietzen has notified Gov. Dayton that he’ll leave the court at the end of August, a move that could shift the court to a somewhat more liberal leaning, and put women in the majority.
for the first time [Correction: Between ’91 and ’94, Rosalie Wahl, Mary Jeane Coyne, Esther Tomljanovich and Sandra Gardebring made up a female majority on the court.]
Dietzen was appointed to the court in 2007 by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
The odds are that Minneapolis city attorney Susan Segal would fill the position if she wanted what could be a short term. She was on a list of three finalists last year to replace the retiring Alan Page. The other two finalists — Natalie Hudson and Margaret Chutich — have already been named to the court.
That would put four women on the seven-member bench, which is headed by Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea, who was appointed by Pawlenty.
Dietzen, 69 and a year shy of the mandatory retirement age for judges in Minnesota, was up for re-election this fall, but the Minnesota Constitution requires Dayton to appoint a replacement, and put the seat up for re-election at the next general election in 2018. Historically, incumbents don’t lose judicial elections in the state.
“I have pondered for several months whether I should retire this summer and give the governor the opportunity to appoint my successor; or, retire at the end of my term in January 2017 and have my successor determined by the November 2016 election,” Dietzen wrote, eventually deciding it’s Dayton’s call.
“My judgment is that having you exercise your constitutional authority to appoint my successor best serves the judicial branch and the citizens of Minnesota,” he said in a letter to Dayton.
How might the court change with the upcoming shift?
It’s possible the court will change its position on life without parole for juveniles. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that courts must consider a variety of factors before imposing a life term for juveniles, the Minnesota justices in the majority have been less than enthusiastic about broadly applying the ruling. In 2014, Dietzen wrote the decision that kept a man in prison for a crime committed as a juvenile, partly because the U.S. Supreme Court did not intend its ruling to be applied retroactively.
It’s possible, on the other hand, that the U.S. Supreme Court has already beaten Minnesota to it with a ruling in January that opened the door to parole for already-incarcerated juveniles.
Dietzen also wrote the 2012 opinion from the Minnesota Supreme Court that declared that requiring criminals to provide DNA samples is not an invasion of privacy.
Somewhat less likely is the fall of the embattled implied consent law, the law that makes it a felony to refuse to submit to testing in drunk driving arrests. The Minnesota Supreme Court has been reluctant to fully embrace an interpretation by the U.S. Supreme Court that the law amounts to forcing a warrantless search. It’s an issue that has sharply divided the court, but not along traditional ideological lines.
Here again, however, the U.S. court could force Minnesota’s hand. The Minnesota court has been heading for a collision with its Washington counterpart, which earlier this year agreed to review the case of a South St. man who challenged the law as unconstitutional.