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Update 2 p.m.: UM-Morris grad appointed state's chief justice; Pawlenty picks a 2nd justice

Lori Skjervin Gildea, a 1983 University of Minnesota, Morris graduate, was the speaker at UMM's 2007 Commencement. Gildea was named Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court on Thursday. She succeed Eric Magnuson, who is retiring. Sun Tribune file photo.

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty today picked a Supreme Court justice who sided with him on a historic budget-cutting suit to run the high court and named a law professor who belongs to a conservative legal organization to the court.

Lorie Gildea, with roots in rural western Minnesota, will be the Supreme Court's chief justice. She is a University of Minnesota Morris graduate who said that growing up in Plummer makes her everything she is.

David Stras will be a high court justice; he once worked for conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and belongs to the Federalist Society that places its priority on "individual liberty, traditional values and the rule of law."

Gildea has served on the state's high court since January 2006.

She replaces Eric Magnuson, who announced in March that he would leave the court at the end of June.

Gildea, 48, was one of three current justices in the running to run the court. All took Pawlenty's side in last week's ruling in which four justices, including Magnuson, declared the governor's budget cuts last summer illegal. He appointed all three to the high court.

Pawlenty said that he looked at a broad range of Gildea's assents, not her dissent from the ruling that went against him, when he picked her. He interviewed the three Wednesday morning and made his decision later in the day.

Since last week's court ruling on his budget-cutting plans, Pawlenty regularly has quoted from Gildea's dissent.

Prior to joining the Supreme Court, Gildea briefly served as a Hennepin County District Court judge and as an assistant Hennepin county attorney.

During her time as a judge and justice, Pawlenty said, Gildea has "exhibited not only a keen legal ability ... but a common sense commitment to fairly and appropriately interpreting the law,"

Gildea acknowledged challenges facing the state and promised to work hard to move Minnesota forward.

"I promise to do my best and to work with all of the members of the judicial family as we make this pivot from challenge to opportunity," she said.

Appointing Gildea opened another position on the court. Pawlenty appointed Stras to fill that position.

Stras has been on the faculty of the University of Minnesota Law School since 2004 and is a lawyer at Faegre & Benson.

"I remain mindful that the role of a judge is limited one and that judges can't solve every problem," he said. "I will give my all to the people of Minnesota."

Stras belongs to the Federalist Society, a group that claims to oppose "orthodox liberal ideology" it says is found in most law schools.

At 35, the suburban Wayzata resident is one of the youngest, if not the youngest, Supreme Court justice ever.

Pawlenty thanked Magnuson, who helped oversee a U.S. Senate recount board and frequently argued against massive judiciary budget cuts.

"Your time on the court was too short, but it was impactful and meaningful," Pawlenty said.

Tellijohn and Davis report for Forum Communications Co.