Appeals Court Judge Wilhelmina Wright
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Gov. Mark Dayton made history Monday by appointing Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Wilhelmina Wright to the state Supreme Court.
Wright will become the first female of African American descent ever appointed to the state's highest court. In fact, the 48-year-old jurist is the first person of color ever appointed to the Supreme Court by any Minnesota governor.
The Court's first black member, Justice Alan Page, was elected to the post directly by the people in 1992, and joined the court in 1993.
Wright paid tribute to Page and Rosalie Wahl, the Minnesota Supreme Court's first female justice. Wahl was appointed by Gov. Rudy Perpich in 1977 and served on the court until her retirement in 1994.
"Undoubtedly I stand here today on the shoulders of so many that have paved the way for me," Wright told the crowd gathered in the Governor's reception room, a group that included all six current Supreme Court justices and her own family.
Wright will replace Justice Helen Meyer, who is retiring 10 years after being named to the court by Gov. Jesse Ventura.
"I will work hard to ensure that Minnesotans continue to have a judiciary that is committed to fairness and justice for all, who entrust us with their most important affairs."
Former Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed Wright to the Court of Appeals in 2002. She was previously a trial judge in Ramsey County District Court and before that, an assistant U.S. attorney in Minnesota where she prosecuted violent crime and economic fraud cases.
"It is my good fortune to devote my life's work to preserving and promoting the values of freedom and equal justice. These are values that I believe in so deeply."
In response to questions from Capitol reporters Monday, Wright said that as a child growing up in Norfork, Virginia she personally witnessed the impact of judicial intervention to enforce civil rights.
She said her mother had to push to get the local school district to desegregate, decades after Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education, the historic US Supreme Court opinion that outlawed segregation in public schools.
"It was my mother's sheer determination to say, 'The Supreme Court said it. My children deserve to benefit from this court order. And I am going to work hard to make sure my children get the benefit of a quality and desegregated education'," Wright recalled.
"My mother stood toe to toe with the superintendent."
Wright went on to graduate from Yale University and Harvard Law School.
She is Dayton's first appointment to the Supreme Court, and the first appointment by any Democratic governor since 1991, when Gov. Perpich named Sandra Gardebring to the court on his final day in office.
Four of the current court members, including Chief Justice Lori Gildea, were appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty during his eight years in office.
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