History was made this past Tuesday (Oct. 16) when Judge Wilhelmina Wright was sworn in as the first African-American woman to serve on the state’s Supreme Court. Wright joins Justice Alan Page as the only two African-American Minnesota Supreme Court justices. Page was elected to the Court in 1992 by the votes of the state. Wright was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to fill the vacancy created with the stepping down of Justice Helen Meyer.The significance of the moment was not lost on the 48-year-old Wright. “It’s an awe-inspiring experience for me, and I hope it will inspire others to do things they dream of doing,” said Wright. “I feel blessed.”
Though a trailblazer herself, the newly-sworn-in justice was quick to acknowledge her achievement was in part to those who came before her. “Surely, I stand on the shoulders of people I know and don’t know, who came before me,” said Wright. “It was civil rights lawyers such as Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley who first paved a way,” said Wright.
Wright said though she has achieved a pinnacle in law, her goals were modest. “I saw law as a means to provide opportunities to others and to help in civil rights,” said Wright. Dayton said though several highly-qualified candidates to fill the vacancy on the court were presented to him, Wright stood out.
“In considering Judge Wright, I read opinions she had written, while on the (Minnesota) Court of Appeals. I was greatly impressed by her brilliance and eloquence,” said Dayton. “Judge Wright’s opinions showed her deep concern for the people affected by the Court’s opinions. Even when she ruled against them, she had considered carefully the impact on their lives. That, I believe, is what citizens want most from their government officials – women and men who see them, even if they don’t agree with them.”
Many of the people who spoke on behalf of Wright made it clear that the Governor’s appointment had nothing to do with race or gender and was based solely on merit. “No one reaches this level of achievement without hard work, talent and integrity,” said Robert Enger, president of the Minnesota State Bar Assoc. Federal Public Defender Katherian Roe went even further in her praise for Wright. “Just as history will remember Justice (Roselie) Wahl and Page as more than firsts, but as great justices, so too will Mimi Wright not only be remembered as a first, but also as a great justice,” said Roe.
Wahl became the first woman to serve on the state’s Supreme Court when she took her oath in 1977. Wright’s background and accomplishments speak volumes. The justice was previously appointed in 2002 by then Gov. Jesse Ventura to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, where she served for 10 years. Previously, she served as a trial judge on the Ramsey County District Court in Saint Paul. She has served as a member of the Minnesota Judicial Council, the Minnesota Courts Public Trust and Confidence Work Group, and the Minnesota State Bar Association Task Force on the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
Wright graduated with honors from Yale University in 1986. She received her law degree from Harvard Law School in 1989.
Justice Wilhelmina Wright poses for a picture with several William Mitchell law students at her swearing in ceremony. Pictured from left to right are Lawrencina Oramalu,Dean of Multicultural Affairs at William Mitchell College of Law, Courtnie Gore,Shonagh Brent,Justice Wright,Nikols Mendoza (behind Wright) and Ryan Francis. gray suit w/yellow tie)
Prior to joining the bench, Wright was an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, where she represented the United States in economic fraud cases and violent crime cases in the United States District Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. She was awarded the United States Department of Justice Special Achievement Award in 1997 and the United States Department of Justice Director’s Award for Public Service in 2000.
During the ceremony, the flags of the nation and state were presented by members of Girl Scout Troop 54005. All of the troop’s presenters were girls of color. Wright is the 90th justice to serve the state on its Supreme Court.
article by Harry Colbert, Jr. via insightnews.com