Voting Guide: The Minnesota Supreme Court Candidates

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Credit: the Minnesota Supreme Court

With the election just days away, here’s some information you need to know about the candidates running for the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Paul Thissen 

Background: 

Formerly a long-time member of the Minnesota House of Representatives representing District 61B in Minneapolis, where he served both as Speaker and Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) Minority Leader, Paul Thissen was a Senior Counsel for Ballard Spahr Law Firm (formerly Lindquist & Vennum) working on health law for eight years before being appointed to the Supreme Court in 2018 by Governor Mark Dayton. 

Originally from Bloomington, Minnesota, Thissen graduated from the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Minnesota, before attending Harvard University and then earning his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. 

His law career included stints working for a law firm, Briggs & Morgan where he increased the firm’s pro bono work, as well as the Minnesota State Public Defender’s Office. He was elected as representative of District 61B in 2002, and ran for governor twice— once in 2010 and announced that would be running in 2018, but withdrew his nomination. 

Legal perspective/beliefs

In a campaign ad, Thissen said that as a lawyer, he advocated for people with disabilities, victims of domestic violence, and people fleeing political persecution. He also said he fought to legalize same sex marriage and equal pay for women. In the campaign ad and elsewhere, Thissen said equal access to justice is an important value to him. 

Legal History

While a Minnesota Representative, Thissen worked on changes to the Minnesota Bar Association’s policies around corporate and nonprofit statutes, in addition to property laws, guardianship, and conservatorship laws, according to a questionnaire for the Minnesota Bar Association. 

Michelle L. MacDonald

Background 

Michelle MacDonald is running for the Minnesota Supreme Court for the third time, after previous runs in 2014 and 2016. She has a B.A. from Boston College, and a J.D. from Suffolk University, and she completed the Instruction for Lawyers program at Harvard Law School.

Most of her career has been with her private practice, the MacDonald Law Firm, LLC, focusing on family law, divorce, paternity, adoption, estate planning, and probate. She was also a Hennepin County small claims court judge from 1999 to 2014 and was an adjunct referee of the family court from 1992 to 2012, when she was suspended for 60 days and put on 2 years of probation, according to the Minnesota Supreme Court order

In 2013, MacDonald was arrested for refusing to take a breathalyzer test. She was convicted of test refusal and obstruction of justice, but found not guilty of driving under the influence, according to a Star Tribune report

The next year, she was announced for endorsement by the GOP’s Judicial Elections Committee and in a video captured by the Uptake, waved her Bible in the air during the party convention. Later, she was barred from accessing the GOP’s State Fair booth, due to her pending criminal case, and was captured being escorted away from the booth, according to MinnPost

Legal perspective/beliefs 

On her website, MacDonald talks about the “rule of law” being “non-existent.” Her website further states that judges have violated public trust, taken away liberties and over-regulated day to day lives. She is pro-life and pro-gun. 

Legal History

During her 30 years as an attorney, MacDonald also founded a nonprofit organization, Family Innocence, dedicated to keeping families out of court by resolving conflicts peacefully. She’s also an active member of the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice (NACRJ) and Restorative Practices International (RPI).

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