Who Am I to Judge?

Minnesota Bar Association president Robin Wolpert wants the public to know more about the judicial system.

When a seat opened on the Minnesota Supreme Court last year, Minnesota Bar Association president and Stillwater resident Robin Wolpert “was out talking with members of the public,” she says. She considers Minnesotans educated and engaged, but “it seemed that the court was largely a mystery. And I get it. I’m a lawyer, and I don’t always know what’s going on.”

For starters, aren’t judges appointed, not elected? Generally, yes.

Wolpert serves as one of the two lawyers representing Minnesota’s 10th Judicial District—covering Washington, Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Pine, Sherburne and Wright counties. The 10th District has four members: two lawyers, two members of the public. So do Minnesota’s other nine judicial districts. Along with nine statewide members, they make up the Minnesota Commission on Judicial Selection. When a judge vacates his or her seat, the commission evaluates candidates for the spot. What do they look for? Legal knowledge, temperament, integrity. “No ‘black robe disease,’” Wolpert says. In other words, being humble before the law. Then the governor appoints someone vetted by the 49-member commission. The governor does not have to—but Minnesota’s governors always have.

Wolpert launched votemnjudges.org in 2016, hosting Supreme Court candidates’ histories. Up next? She hopes to launch an informational forum in Stillwater.

Coming This Summer

Learn more as writer Erik Tormoen goes to court with Robin Wolpert for a closer look.