Dietzen to resign from state high court

ST. PAUL -- One of the seven members of the Minnesota Supreme Court will resign this summer after eight years on the bench, allowing Gov. Mark Dayton to name a fourth appointee to the state's highest court.

ST. PAUL -- One of the seven members of the Minnesota Supreme Court will resign this summer after eight years on the bench, allowing Gov. Mark Dayton to name a fourth appointee to the state’s highest court.

Justice Christopher Dietzen was appointed to the court in 2008 by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, after previously serving as an appellate judge. Dietzen announced Thursday that he intends to resign Aug. 31.

His statement announcing his resignation didn’t specify a reason, but Dietzen is up for election this fall and would have to retire in 2017 even if voters gave him another term on the bench. That’s because he turns 70 next March - mandatory retirement age for the Minnesota Supreme Court.

However, in an interview, Dietzen said his decision to depart was a practical matter.

While he could have let voters pick his successor in the November 2016 election, he said he thought it better to leave it up to the governor and the state’s Commission on Judicial Selection, which helps find and recommend candidates.


Dietzen said he recognized the possible political backlash of leaving the decision up to a Democratic governor, who will have named a majority of the court’s members.

“To the people who may question my sanity - and many have, others will continue to - I have to make a decision that I think is the right decision,” he said. “That’s what I did.”

Three other justices on the high court were appointed by Pawlenty, a Republican.

Although Dietzen would have had to stand for re-election in November, whoever Dayton appoints to replace him won’t stand until 2018. The Minnesota Constitution provides that court appointees face voters at the next general election at least one year after their appointments.

Minnesota governors don’t need legislative approval for their Supreme Court appointments.

In a statement, Dayton praised Dietzen for serving “with honor and distinction.”

“Justice Dietzen’s contributions to justice and jurisprudence will have a lasting impact on our state,” said Dayton, who promised to “give careful consideration to his replacement.”

Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea said in a statement that Dietzen was a “wise and thoughtful jurist” and a “leader in our efforts to improve the administration of justice in our state.”


As a member of the court, Dietzen is the chair of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, among other roles. As chair of that commission, Dietzen voted last year in favor of reducing sentences for some drug offenses. That recommendation is now the subject of a legislative battle, with some Republicans trying to block the recommendations and some Democrats interested in pushing them further.

Dietzen was an attorney with the Bloomington law firm Larkin, Hoffman, Daly & Lindgren before serving four years on the Minnesota Court of Appeals and then being elevated to the Supreme Court.

He is a native of Washington state and studied business administration and law at Gonzaga University.

Here are the current members of the Supreme Court and the governor who appointed them:

  • Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea (Gov. Tim Pawlenty)
  • Associate Justice Barry Anderson (Pawlenty)
  • Associate Justice Christopher Dietzen (Pawlenty)
  • Associate Justice David Stras (Pawlenty)
  • Associate Justice David Lillehaug (Gov. Mark Dayton)
  • Associate Justice Natalie Hudson (Dayton)

Additionally, Dayton has appointed the court’s seventh justice, Margaret Chutich, who will be sworn in later this month. Chutich replaces Dayton appointee Wilhelmina Wright, who recently became a federal judge.

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