Walz appoints Gaïtas, Hennesy as associate justices for Minnesota Supreme Court

Walz appoints Gaïtas, Hennesy as associate justices for Minnesota Supreme Court

Walz appoints Gaïtas, Hennesy as associate justices for Minnesota Supreme Court

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has announced his two appointees for the state’s Supreme Court.

Early Monday morning, Walz said he is appointing Sarah Hennesy to replace Justice G. Barry Anderson and Theodora Gaïtas as the replacement for Justice Margaret Chutich.

As reported by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS in January, Justice Anderson announced his retirement after serving nearly 20 years. Anderson intends to retire on May 10.

Just days later, Justice Chutich announced her retirement after eight years of service on the state’s Supreme Court. Her last day will be July 31.

Walz released the following statements on his selections:

“It is my privilege to appoint Chief Judge Sarah Hennesy. Not only is she a brilliant legal mind with extensive judicial experience, but she is a leader who knows how to move the needle towards justice.

“I am honored to appoint Judge Gaïtas to the Minnesota Supreme Court. She is a remarkable jurist who has served at all levels of our judiciary. Her understanding of the complexities of our judicial system will make her an excellent addition to the Minnesota Supreme Court.”

Hennesy is currently the chief judge of the Seventh Judicial District, with her chambers in St. Cloud. She also serves as a chair of the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on the General Rules of Practice, and previously practiced law in appellate and trial courts as an appellate public defender in Iowa and a criminal defense attorney in both Virginia and Washington, D.C.

“I am profoundly honored to be selected to serve as an associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to the Governor and his team for entrusting me with this immense responsibility. As a justice of this Court, I will work collaboratively with my colleagues to interpret the law faithfully, uphold the Constitution, and ensure that justice is accessible to all Minnesotans,” said Hennesy on Walz’s selection.

Justice Chutich sounded off on the decision, issuing the following prepared statement early Monday:

“I’m elated that Chief Judge Sarah Hennesy will be joining the Supreme Court. She is fair, experienced, compassionate, and respectful of every person who appears before her. It’s a great day for the court and for Minnesota!”

Justice Chutich

Gaïtas currently serves on the state’s Court of Appeals and previously served as a judge in the Fourth Judicial District. In addition, she is a co-chair of the Tribal Court State Court forum and also a co-chair on the Court of appeals’ Equal Justice Committee and law clerk recruiting committee.

“I am honored and grateful for the opportunity to serve the Minnesota Supreme Court, and I thank Governor Walz and his team for their trust in me. As an associate justice, I will strive to apply the law fairly and justly for all Minnesotans,” said Gaïtas in a prepared statement regarding her appointment.

With their appointments, Walz has now selected four of the seven members of the Minnesota Supreme Court, and also chose Chief Justice Natalie Hudson.

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Once Gaïtas and Hennesy are seated, the state’s highest court will be comprised of four women and three men, all appointed by Democratic governors.

Both new justices say partisanship won’t impact their decisions.

“It is very important to me to not be perceived as partisan,” Gaitas said at a news conference after her appointment was announced. Hennesy also addressed the issue. “There’s no partisan slant to the way that I make my decisions,” she said. “I’m sworn to uphold the constitution and when I find myself in gray areas I’m very careful to check myself for any biases.”

Hamline University law professor David Schultz says bias isn’t always easy to detect.

“The real problem with bias is the fact that what? You don’t even realize you have a bias,” he says.

Schultz says in most cases political bias isn’t a factor, but it can be in some overtly political cases like those involving election law.

“Is a Democrat or Republican going to win a challenge for a state legislative seat? That’s where I think the concern is going to kick in,” he says. “In terms of people wondering am I getting a fair hearing.”

Earlier this year, Walz chose Ramsey County Judge JaPaul Harris to fill a vacancy on the state’s Court of Appeals, which was opened when Judge Jeffrey Bryan was confirmed to the federal bench in late November.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the state’s process for selecting and appointing judges.