The confirmation of Wilhelmina Wright

The Senate confirmed Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Wilhelmina (Mimi) Wright as a Minnesota federal district court judge on Tuesday. Heritage Action announced that it opposed her confirmation and that it was important enough that it was scoring the vote on her confirmation as a key vote. Several conservative outlets more or less protested her pending confirmation in advance of the vote. Most Republican Senators voted against her confirmation. If I had been voting, I would have voted to confirm. I want to provide this personal note explaining why.

The rap on Judge Wright (as I will refer to her in this post) derives from her days as a student at Harvard Law School. As a student she was the executive editor of the Harvard Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law Review, but the trouble comes in a brief UCLA Law Review comment (accessible here) in which she wrote: “White people are running and hiding. Their mad scramble is aided by a Chief Justice [Rehnquist] who owned racially restrictive property and a Presidential administration [i.e., the Reagan administration] that believes bigotry, poverty, and poor educational opportunities for most public school students are the unavoidable fruits of a ‘thriving’ free market economy.”

That’s not great, but that’s about it. Since her days as a law student, Judge Wright has worked in private practice. She has served as an Assistant United States Attorney. She went on to serve as a judge on the Ramsey County District Court, as a judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and as an associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court. In the course of her 25-year career she has compiled an unblemished professional record.

St. Paul is a small town. I’ve crossed paths occasionally with Judge Wright over the years. To take a few examples, she serves as a trustee on the board of my high school alma mater. For the past few years she has attended our annual Twin Cities Cardozo Society dinner for Jewish lawyers and judges. There aren’t many non-Jewsish judges who attend the dinner. Her attendance has meant something to me personally. Judge Wright also spoke to a class of legal writing students including my section at the University of St. Thomas Law School a few years ago; she was excellent. I like her and I think she is impossible to dislike.

I concede that’s not enough to go on, but that’s what I know. I asked a conservative friend who knows her better than I do whether my impressions were off. My friend responded:

She’s never said one word to me that I would consider professionally questionable, let alone indicating that she shouldn’t serve as a federal judge. She rarely criticizes anyone personally…and it’s worth noting that her background includes time as a federal prosecutor….I also think it’s a little absurd to make a production about a law review comment now decades old.

Your descriptions of her are consistent with my experience. As you might expect, I think pretty highly of her. I’d be shocked if I were to conclude otherwise after her service on the federal bench begins.

Federal district judge nominations lie in the hands of home state senators of the president’s party. Minnesota Senators Klobuchar and Franken appointed a panel to make a recommendation for the vacancy Judge Wright was ultimately selected to fill. As it happens, I also know both the leading Democratic member (Ann Huntrods) and the Republican member (Tom Heffelfinger) of the panel that recommended the appointment of Judge Wright. They too are outstanding lawyers with unblemished professional records. I think that they chose well in this case.

The hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee was a collective affair held this past July 22. Judge Wright was included on a panel of four nominees (three for district judgeships and one for Assistant Attorney General–Tax Division). Minnesota Lawyer live blogged the hearing here. Video of the Judiciary Committee hearing is posted here. Senator Sessions questioned Judge Wright briefly about her student law review comment at the end of the hearing. Although she was slightly nervous, her winning personal qualities shine through her testimony.