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Pawlenty taps U of M Morris graduate as new high court chief justice

ST. PAUL -- Two people who sided with Gov. Tim Pawlenty in a historic lawsuit about his budget cutting powers earned his support Thursday with Supreme Court positions.

The Republican governor appointed as chief justice a current justice who wrote a dissenting opinion last week when the high court decided Pawlenty illegally cut spending last summer.

New Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, 48, has roots in rural western Minnesota. The University of Minnesota Morris graduate said growing up in Plummer made her what she is.

Pawlenty named as a justice a young law professor who wrote a legal brief on his behalf in that suit and who belongs to a conservative legal organization.

David Stras once worked for conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative.

The appointments came an hour after the Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution allows governors to fill judicial vacancies without requiring an election. Gildea and Stras said they plan to seek election when their terms end.

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 said she would work hard for Minnesota.

"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.

Peter Knapp, William Mitchell College law professor, said anyone making a list of chief justice candidates "would have had Justice Gildea on the list," he said. "I don't think it can be much of a surprise that (Pawlenty) chose her."

Gildea's husband, Andy, is a long-time Republican legislative and campaign worker, but the chief justice designate said that will not influence her: "We respect the separation of powers in our household."

Appointing Gildea opened another position on the court. Pawlenty picked Stras for 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.

Stras belongs to the Federalist Society, a group that claims to oppose "orthodox liberal ideology" it says is found in most law schools. He co-wrote a legal brief on behalf of the governor's position in the case involving last summer's budget cuts. At 35, the suburban Wayzata resident is one of the youngest Supreme Court justices ever.

Tellijohn and Davis both report for Forum Communications Co.