ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Former gubernatorial candidate and Democratic state Rep. Paul Thissen was named as one of four finalists for a Minnesota Supreme Court vacancy on Wednesday, raising the specter of Gov. Mark Dayton naming another partisan figure to the state's highest court.
The shortlist of candidates released by an independent commission also includes Dayton's former cabinet member and current Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Lucinda Jesson, who joined the court in early 2016 after serving five years as commissioner of the Department of Human Services. Minnesota Tax Court Chief Judge Bradford Delapena and District Court Judge Jeffrey Bryan are also in the running.
Dayton's choice will replace Justice David Stras, who was finally confirmed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after months of waiting. Dayton's pick will make five of the Minnesota Supreme Court's seven members his own appointees.
Even among a crowd of familiar candidates, Thissen's name stood out. He spent one term as House Speaker and two as Democratic Minority Leader, a partisan leader in skirmishes on the House floor. He suspended his campaign for the race to replace Dayton just in February, and is not running for a ninth term for his Minneapolis House seat.
But neither Dayton nor his predecessors have shied away from party allies when filling seats on the state's highest court. Dayton appointed longtime Democratic attorney David Lillheaug to the court in 2013. Lillehaug helped Dayton during his 2010 recount victory and also worked on former Sen. Al Franken's 2008 recount and other Democratic elections.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty named both his campaign attorney Christopher Dietzen and Minnesota Republican Party attorney Barry Anderson to the Supreme Court.
Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, appointees to Minnesota's high court don't require legislative confirmation. But appointed justices stand for re-election at the end of their terms. Dayton's office says he will spend the next few weeks interviewing candidates before naming his pick.
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