Minnesota will soon have another federal judicial vacancy, as former Chief Judge John Tunheim informed President Joe Biden on Wednesday that he planned to take senior status.
Tunheim, 69, whose tenure as chief judge ended last year, wrote in a letter to the president that he would take senior status "effective upon the confirmation of my successor" after having "attained the age and having met the service requirements" of federal law governing judicial retirements.
"However, it is my present intention to continue to render substantial judicial service to the Court and to the public as a Senior Judge," Tunheim wrote in the letter, obtained by the Star Tribune. "It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve as a federal district judge, especially my seven years as Chief Judge."
Senior status is a form of semi-retirement for federal judges. Judges on senior status have the discretion to maintain a full caseload, reduce the amount of cases they hear or take no further cases. Tunheim's successor would be the third U.S. District Court judge appointed under the Biden administration.
Judge Patrick Schiltz replaced Tunheim as chief judge as of July 2022.
Tunheim was first appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1995 and by year's end will have had the third-longest active judicial service in the district's history.
"The time has now come to provide the opportunity and privilege of serving as a District Judge in the District of Minnesota to my successor," Tunheim concluded in his letter to Biden.
Before becoming a federal judge, Tunheim spent more than a decade with the Minnesota Attorney General's Office. He served as assistant attorney general, manager of the office's public affairs litigation division, solicitor general and chief deputy attorney general.
Biden has appointed two federal judges for Minnesota since taking office in 2021: Katherine Menendez and Jerry Blackwell.
In statements Wednesday, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith both thanked Tunheim for his decades of service on the federal bench while looking ahead at the search for new candidates to come.
"I look forward to working with Senator Smith and the White House to identify qualified candidates to fill this vacancy and continue Minnesota's long tradition of exceptional federal judges," Klobuchar said.
Smith added that she and Klobuchar will recommend nominees to ensure that whoever fills Tunheim's seat "is well-qualified and committed to upholding our most fundamental value: equal justice for all."
"Federal judges have lifetime appointments and their decisions affect every part of our lives, from who we marry, our privacy and freedom to make our own medical decisions and our right to vote," Smith said.