Gov. Tim Walz Appoints First Black Chief Justice To Minnesota Supreme Court

Michelle Griffith, Minnesota Reformer

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday announced that Justice Natalie Hudson will be the next chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, making her the first person of color to serve in the position.

Hudson, who is currently a Supreme Court associate justice, will be elevated to the role after current Chief Justice Lorie Gildea retires in October.

Walz simultaneously announced on Wednesday that Karl Procaccini, his former general counsel, will fill Hudson’s position as Supreme Court associate justice.

Hudson was a judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals for 13 years, and former DFL Gov. Mark Dayton appointed her to the Supreme Court in 2015.

“Justice Hudson is one of our state’s most experienced jurists. She has a strong reputation as a leader and consensus builder,” Walz said in a statement. “I know that she will use her decades of judicial experience and deep understanding of our justice system to lead the Judicial Branch with a steady hand and strong conviction. I am confident that she will advance a vision that promotes fairness and upholds the dignity of all Minnesotans.”

Prior to the Supreme Court, Hudson worked in the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office for eight years in criminal appellate law. She thanked the governor for the appointment on Wednesday.

“This is a tremendous responsibility that I approach with humility and resolve, seeking to continue the work of my predecessors in administering one of the best state court systems in the nation, and always seeking to deliver the most accessible, highest-quality court services for the citizens of Minnesota,” Hudson said.

Gildea’s retirement means that only one state Supreme Court justice, Barry Anderson, will have been appointed to the court by a Republican governor.

Procaccini, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, previously led Walz’s legal team as general counsel from 2019 to June of this year.

“With steadiness, humility, and an exceptional legal mind, Karl Procaccini navigated Minnesota through one of the most difficult periods in our history,” Walz said in a statement. “Karl understands how legal decisions impact the lives of Minnesotans. There is no one more prepared for the rigors and challenges that come with this important position. I know that Karl will continue to improve the lives of Minnesotans in this important role.”

Prior to joining the governor’s office, Procaccini was a partner for the law firm Greene Espel PLLP. From June 2017 to December 2018, Procaccini served as outside counsel for the PolyMet Mining Corporation in the case Sierra Club et al. v. United States et al., according to court records.

Polymet, now known as New Range Copper Nickel LLC, for years has been hoping to open facilities and mines in northern Minnesota to extract copper, nickel and platinum and has faced a slew of legal challenges.

It’s unclear whether Procaccini intends to recuse himself from future PolyMet cases that come before the Supreme Court.

“I am humbled by the governor’s decision and grateful for this opportunity to serve Minnesotans as an associate justice,” Procaccini said in a statement. “I will strive to maintain the Supreme Court’s high standards, protect equal justice for all, and uphold the rule of law.”

Procaccini has received accolades from state organizations in recognition of his work on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the governor’s office.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

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