People are often surprised when I tell them I’m up for election to keep the seat I hold on the Minnesota Supreme Court. Yes, Minnesotans have the power and responsibility to elect state court judges.
That surprise is often followed by a great question: What should I think about when deciding which judicial candidate to vote for? For me, the answer is in the name of the position. Judges exercise judgment. Think about the qualities that make you confident that a person will exercise good judgment.
When I think about those qualities, I am reminded of the values my public-school-teacher parents taught me growing up: Work hard, be fair and compassionate, respect others and listen to their viewpoints, act with integrity, be curious about the world, and be of service to your community. Those are the same qualities that make a good judge and that I bring to my work as a Supreme Court justice.
Experience matters. Before my appointment to the court, I worked as a lawyer for 25 years, arguing cases before the Minnesota appellate courts as a public defender, representing individuals and Minnesota businesses large and small in complex civil litigation and guiding health care and long-term care providers through complicated regulatory matters and business deals. And I always took time to represent, for free, clients who could not afford a lawyer, including victims of domestic abuse and families with disabled children. That breadth of legal experience serves me well as I decide a wide range of tough legal issues.
Also consider the candidate’s basic values. Access to justice and making sure people get a fair shake in life has been a deep life-long commitment for me. It is shown through my extensive volunteer legal work, service in organizations like the Minnesota Justice Foundation, founding Access for Persons with Disabilities, and a 16-year legislative career that allowed me to get to know and work with communities in every corner of our state. Yet, too many Minnesotans today don’t get help vindicating their rights in our courts because of a lack of money, their race, and where they live. That needs to change. I’m working hard to do just that.
Courts must preserve our democracy and the power of communities to solve their problems. As a justice, I have upheld local efforts to raise wages and improve access to health care and housing, and I have joined decisions making sure government officials listen to their constituents.
I also take seriously my oath to uphold the Constitution. I’m committed to preserving Minnesotans’ individual rights and holding the powerful accountable (including the courts themselves). I’ve written opinions limiting the government’s power to conduct invasive searches without consent and striking down laws that interfere with our First Amendment right to freely express our ideas or that allow the government to take our property through forfeiture.
And, unlike my opponent Michelle MacDonald, I’ve never been convicted of obstructing the legal process (or any other crime aside from traffic tickets). Also in contrast to Ms. MacDonald — who, in the past, has been suspended from the practice of law for ethical violations — I have never had professional or ethical complaints filed against me.
I love working for you on the Minnesota Supreme Court, a non-ideological court that over the last several years has reached a unanimous decision in about three of every four cases. I am inspired every day by the potential to make our obligations to each other under the law clearer and justice more accessible. I strive each day to see and never forget the real people behind the lawsuits. I would be honored by your support on Nov. 3.
Paul Thissen of Minneapolis is a Minnesota Supreme Court associate justice being challenged in the Nov. 3 election by Michelle MacDonald of West St. Paul. His campaign website is at paulthissen.com. He wrote this at the invitation of the News Tribune Opinion page.