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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A final farewell to the 'Anderson' bloc on the Minnesota high court

Here in Minnesota we are in the waning days of the "Anderson Court" -- the rather unique situation our high court has had of having three out of seven justices with the same surname. (I don't know who this "Ander" guy was, but he really seems to have gotten around.) Chief Justice Russell Anderson, who is stepping down on June 1, will be feted at a retirement part hosted by the State Bar on Thursday. Once he departs, there will be only two Justice Andersons left on the court -- Paul Anderson and Barry Anderson. (Minneapolis attorney Eric Magnuson has been appointed to replace Russell Anderson as chief, and, as any native Minnesotan knows, there is a world of difference between the names of Ander-son and Magnu-son, or at least five letters of the alphabet.)

All three Justice Andersons originally got their seats on the court through gubernatorial appointment rather than the election process, so their presence there has little to do with the fact that Scandinavian surnames have historically been gold at the ballot box in Minnesota. (As some may recall, a high court candidate once tried adopting his wife's Scandinavian family name as his middle name to help him win election to the court. It didn't work.)

There is no evidence this "Anderson bloc" has really made any difference in real terms. They do not appear to have any proclivity to vote together -- and, in fact, I recall at least one decision where the majority opinion was authored by one Justice Anderson, with another Justice Anderson specially concurring and the third Justice Anderson dissenting. (Kind of sounds like the "Three Faces of Eve," doesn't it?) In fact, as near as I can divine, the major advantage of having three Justice Andersons on the high court has been to give the governor a nearly endless supply of jokes about it. And, as we all recently witnessed with the governor's rather unfortunate quip after the fishing opener, he can use all the help in that department he can get ...

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