Anne McKeig: The 1st American-Indian on the MN Supreme Court


Judge Anne K. McKeig was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court by the governor Tuesday. She'll replace current Associate Justice Christopher J. Dietzen, who is retiring toward the end of the summer.

McKeig's appointment brings with it a historic first, a very notable second, and some significant changes. Here's a look at who McKeig is, and what her new role means.

A female-majority Supreme Court

When the 49-year-old McKeig takes her role, she'll join three other women currently serving on the Minnesota Supreme Court – meaning the seven-member court will be majority female.

It's the first time that's happened in Minnesota since 1991, the governor's office says, and only the second time in the state's history.

And Minnesota was actually way ahead of the curve back then. As the New York Times reported, Minnesota became the first state in the U.S. to have a female majority on a Supreme Court. (That was Sandra Gardebring, who was appointed by former Gov. Rudy Perpich.)

Which other states have female majorities?

Since then, others have caught up. Minnesota is joining 10 other states that have female majorities in their top courts.

They are: Arkansas, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Washington (which happens to have the most female judges, with six out of nine), and our close neighbor Wisconsin.

(Note: New York and Maryland are weird in that the highest courts are appeals courts. We counted those among the other supreme courts here.)

First American-Indian on the court

McKeig is a descendant of White Earth Nation.

With her appointment, she becomes the first American-Indian to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court. During a speech Tuesday, she called it a "historic day ... for all Native people."

While tearing up during the speech, she noted she attended the swearing-in of Robert Blaeser years ago – the first American-Indian sworn to a District Court bench.

"I didn't know him, but he was a White Earth member. And I, as a proud descendant of the White Earth nation, knew that if he could do it, that maybe I could."

According to U.S. Census estimates, about 1.3 percent of the state's population – that's approximately 71,360 people – is American-Indian.

She was born in Federal Dam, right off Leech Lake. During her career – which includes stops in the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, teaching at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, and work as a District Court judge – she's specialized in child protection and Indian welfare issues, the governor's office says.

She's Dayton's fourth pick

Right now, four of the justices were appointed by former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and three have been appointed by Dayton.

But Dietzen's exit, coupled with McKeig's entrance, flips that dynamic.

Mitchell Hamline Law School professor Ted Sampsell-Jones told the Star Tribune that comes with an ideological shift too – McKeig leans more liberal, while Dietzen leans conservative.

McKeig was known by Pawlenty though – he actually appointed her to serve as a Hennepin County judge in 2008.

Here's a look at the current Supreme Court justices.

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