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David Lillehaug will be the next Minnesota Supreme Court justice

Gov. Dayton will make the public announcement this afternoon.

lillehaug portrait
David Lillehaug

David Lillehaug, a Minneapolis attorney and former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, will be appointed today to fill the upcoming vacancy on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Gov. Mark Dayton will announce the appointment at 1:30. Lillehaug will replace Justice Paul Anderson, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 in May. Lillehaug is 58, so he could theoretically serve for 12 years.

Lillehaug is currently a partner with the downtown Minneapolis law firm of Fredrikson and Byron, specializing in real estate law and what the lawyers call “complex litigation.” He has been very active in DFL politics including, notably, legal work on the high-profile recounts surrounding the election of both Sen. Al Franken in 2008 (which included final arguments before the state Supreme Court on which he will now serve) and Gov. Dayton in 2010. He recently worked on the redistricting that established the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts for the decade ahead.

In addition to representing Franken and Dayton, Lillehaug served as an advisor to the Senate campaigns of Paul Wellstone, Amy Klobuchar and the brief comeback campaign of Walter Mondale in 2002 when Mondale stepped in after the Wellstone plane crash. In fact, as a young man, Lillehaug got his start in high-level politics traveling with Mondale during the presidential campaign of 1983-84.

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He twice sought the DFL endorsement for high public offices, namely Minnesota attorney general and U.S. Senate. (In fact, Lillehaug was a Senate candidate in 2000, the year the Dayton was ultimately elected.) He was appointed U.S. attorney for Minnesota by Pres. Bill Clintonin 1994.

Lillehaug was also a finalist for the Supreme Court vacancy that Dayton filled last year with the appointment of Wilhelmina Wright, who had been a member of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. This time he was in a final field of three that included two other members of the appellate court, Judges Edward Cleary and Natalie Hudson.

No other justices will reach mandatory retirement age during the balance of Dayton’s current term, so this appointment is his last sure opportunity to shape the high court. The oldest remaining justice (after Paul Anderson’s retirement becomes official) will be Alan Page, who will turn 70 in 2015, just after the next gubernatorial election. Page, who is among the most liberal of current justices, could elect to retire earlier so that Dayton could appoint his successor.

Unlike U.S. Supreme Court justices, State Supreme Court appointments by the governor are not subject to confirmation, although they do come up for reelection. Minnesota has not experienced the kind of high-profile, high-dollar campaigns for such offices as are starting to occur in other states.

Lillehaug, a South Dakota native, is a graduate of Augustana College and Harvard Law School.