Wright is first African American appointed to Supreme Court

Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Wilhelmina Wright, above, has been appointed to the state supreme court to replace retiring Justice Helen Meyer.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, Aug. 20, named Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Wilhelmina Wright to the state supreme court to replace retiring Justice Helen Meyer.

Wright is the first African-American woman to serve on the state supreme court.

She has served on the Court of Appeals since 2002 and authored over 700 legal opinions.

Dayton, who interviewed Wright, 48, last week and read samples of her legal opinions, was taken with the intellect, clarity and judiciousness, exhibited in the writing, he explained.

“I believe that she will serve the people of Minnesota with great distinction on our Supreme Court,” Dayton said.

But Dayton also said it was a difficult decision because all four finalists were high-caliber.

Wright spoke of the “awesome responsibility” of serving on the Supreme Court.

She credited former state supreme court Justice Rosalie Wahl, first woman to serve on the court, and current Justice Alan Page, first African-American, as trailblazing the pathway.

“My path has been paved by these two extraordinary justices,” Wright said.

Wright cites freedom and equal justice at the core root of her legal beliefs.

She views the court as needing to reflect the broad and diverse backgrounds of the people it serves.

On a more personal level, Wright, who lives in St. Paul with husband Dan Schmechel and daughter Kathryn, beckoned back to her early life, growing up in Norfork, Va., and her mother’s pugnaciousness in dealing with local school officials in seeing that the spirit of the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education was honored in the local schools, as playing a major role in developing an appreciation in her of the rule of law.

Indeed, Wright credits the Brown decision as seminal in her understanding of the law.

“I will work hard to ensure that Minnesotans continue to have a judiciary that is committed to fairness and justice for those who entrust us with their most important affairs,” Wright said.

Wright takes the bench as the court deliberates Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s changing of the titles for the proposed photo ID and same-sex marriage ban amendments.

Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, who attended the appointment news conference along with fellow justices, styled gubernatorial Supreme Court appointments as the most important duty governors perform.

Wright was Dayton’s first Minnesota Supreme Court appointment.

Recently, he spoke of the need for diversity in the courts.

Dayton recalled his own jury service, and how the accused, a person of color, stood before a white jury.

“When people go in and get their moment of justice, they want to see somebody that looks like them,” Dayton said.

“I’m conscious of that,” he said.

“That’s human nature,” Dayton said of the longing for familiarity.

Prior to serving on the Court of Appeals, Wright was a district court judge in Ramsey County and assistant United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota.

She holds a law degree from Harvard University.

Gildea spoke of a “deep pool” of applicants for the supreme court position.

There were some 35 applicants for the post, Dayton said.

One of the finalists was attorney David Lillehaug, former U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota.

Lillehaug represented Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Dayton in their election recounts.

Dayton said he called Wright and informed her of his decision.