Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed longtime friend Eric Magnuson as chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court on Monday, replacing retiring justice Russell Anderson. Most accounts suggest that Magnuson will be a superb justice on the high court, but his close ties to Pawlenty and his lack of experience on the bench have raised questions for at least one legal expert.
The Minnesota Lawyer blog asks, “What’s that old saying about even the appearance of impropriety being improper?” Magnuson and Pawlenty worked together at at the law firm Rider Bennett. Magnuson worked on Pawlenty’s gubernatorial campaign. They are certainly good friends, and Pawlenty picked Magnuson to chair the Commission on Judicial Selection, a body that screens judges for appointment to the bench. Magnuson did not screen himself for the position.
“Unilaterally hoisting a longtime colleague with no experience on the bench directly to the high court’s top spot looks, at least to a lay observer, a little too convenient — especially when the appointee was previously in charge of screening judicial candidates for the governor,” wrote Minnesota Lawyer staff writer Dan Heilman.
“Magnuson comes across as remarkably informed and articulate on court-related topics. He’ll probably do a fine job,” wrote Heilman. “It’s too bad that the circumstances of his appointment seem perfectly aligned to invite scrutiny, deserved or otherwise.”