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Ex-Speaker Thissen headed to Minnesota high court

Veteran Minnesota lawmaker Paul Thissen talks Tuesday, April 17, 2018, about his appointment to the state Supreme Court by Gov. Mark Dayton (left). Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — A former Minnesota House speaker will become Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's fifth justice on the seven-member state Supreme Court.

Dayton announced Tuesday, April 17, that Rep. Paul Thissen will become a justice. He has been in the state House 16 years and a lawyer 25 years.

Dayton and Thissen said the Minneapolis man's time in the Legislature means he has traveled the state, talking to thousands of people, which will help him as justice.

The governor said that Thissen's time in the House, especially as speaker, built skills "forged and battle tested under ... adversity," calling that "priceless."

Thissen said he will resign from the House Friday, but will not cast votes the rest of this week. Dayton said he will not call a special election to fill Thissen's seat because no one could be elected by the time the Legislature must adjourn on May 21.

Appointing a partisan lawmaker has not happened in recent years, but Dayton's office said lawmakers have been appointed to the high court 17 times.

He said that he can switch from the politics and policy of the legislative branch to "principled judging" of the high court.

There could be some issues from his legislative days that could force him to recuse himself on court issues. He said that will be decided on a case-by-case basis, after receiving advice from others.

Former Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz — who appeared with Dayton, Thiessen and current Chief Justice Lorie Gildea Tuesday — went to the court after time in the House, which she said helped her as a jurist.

Blatz, who was a Republican in the House, praised Thissen. She said that he appeared before her Supreme Court once, but after a reporter her asked the outcome she admitted he lost the case.

"He is very humble, very smart and will be a great addition to the court," Blatz said.

Thissen, 51, fills a vacancy created when President Donald Trump appointed Justice David Stras to the federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Stras was appointed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Thissen this spring dropped out of the race for governor.

A Bloomington native, he is a Harvard honors graduate with a law degree from the University of Chicago, is married and they have three children.

Thissen said his appointment is his "daydream opportunity."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.