Law Degree Not a Requirement To Be Minnesota’s Attorney General

August 02, 2018 10:18 PM

When Minnesota’s state constitution was adopted in 1857, there was nothing requiring the state's attorney general to be an attorney or hold a law license in Minnesota to earn the office.

And that has not changed all these years later.


Which is why, in Minnesota’s primary Aug. 14, there are nine candidates listed on the ballot, including two Republicans without law degrees and one DFL lawyer not currently authorized to practice.

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"There's clearly a spirit of democracy that says anyone can be president, or anyone can grow up to be attorney general, but a lot can be said for experience," Hamline professor David Schultz said.

But Article V of the Minnesota Constitution, then Article 7, section 6 simply requires the candidate to be 21, a resident of the state 30 days before the election and to be elected by the people.

GOP Candidates

Minnesota’s Lawyer Registration Office records show Doug Wardlow got his license in 2004, and that he has an active license that allows him to practice law in the state.

The other GOP candidates, Robert Lessard and Sharon Anderson, do not have law degrees.

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Lessard served from 1977 to 2002 in Minnesota’s State Senate. And he told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that Senate experience prepared him to "enforce state law over an individual political agenda."

Anderson told 5 EYEWINTESS NEWS she is “is not a liar or lawyer,” and her campaign page talks about defending the state constitution.

DFL Candidates

Four DFL candidates are lawyers and have current law licenses that allow them to appear in court: Tom Foley, Deb Hilstrom, Matt Pelikan and Mike Rothman.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, meanwhile, practiced law for 16 years. But his license is listed as “not authorized to practice law” and is on general inactive status on the state Office of Lawyer Registration’s website.

Ellison’s campaign said he put his license in inactive status because members of Congress are not allowed to practice law due to ethics rules. And that he’ll complete the remaining eight hours of continuing legal education by the time of the primary on Aug. 14.

Grassroots Candidate

Grassroots candidate Noah M. Johnson's law license allows him to handle cases, according to state records. 

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Minnesotans have elected five non-lawyers to the post of attorney general over the years. But the last elected non-lawyer was Republican William S. Ervin in the mid-1930s, according to records Schultz reviewed at the Minnesota Historical Society.

"Does it make sense for the (attorney general) to be an attorney, probably yes," he said. "But could you do with it without a law degree? I don't know how those five did it in the past, but they did the job."

State law written after the constitution gives the AG duties only a lawyer could do, like appearing in the federal court or at the Supreme Court on behalf of the state. But they could delegate those responsibilities to a licensed attorney.

Schultz said there are states that do require a candidate to be an attorney in order to become attorney general.


Eric Chaloux

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