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Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chutich announced her retirement Tuesday, the second justice to do so in the past week and a decision that will give Gov. Tim Walz his fourth appointee to the seven-member court.

In her retirement letter, Chutich said she loved serving Minnesotans on the appellate courts. "I am also grateful to my colleagues on the court, who strive every day in a collegial and collaborative fashion to apply the law in a principled and even-handed way. They are hard-working, intelligent, and kind human beings," she wrote.

Chutich, the first openly gay member of the court, will leave July 31. In her letter, she said she was touched that so many mothers thanked her for the positive effect her appointment had on their children.

"Having someone like me on the bench also tells LGBTQ+ lawyers they belong in the courtroom and helps those in the community know that someone on the bench has life experiences that may enrich the understanding of the court, especially about the facts involved in a particular case," she wrote. "All manner of diversity in decision makers is key to creating a fair system of justice."

Late last week, Justice G. Barry Anderson announced that he would step down May 10. Anderson's departure was expected given that he will turn 70 in October, the mandatory retirement age for Minnesota judges.

Walz referred to Anderson and Chutich as giants "who have the trust of Minnesotans" and said the Minnesota Supreme Court is "as strong as any institution in the country."

He chooses successors, but Walz noted that after the moment of appointment, "they're an independent branch of government."

Chutich, a veteran of the state Court of Appeals when Gov. Mark Dayton appointed her to the bench in 2016, was up for re-election this year. At 65, she could have served the bulk of another six-year term.

The court is in a notable period of personnel transition if not ideological change. When successors to Anderson and Chutich are sworn in, all seven justices will be appointees of two DFL governors.

Margaret Chutich was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to the Minnesota Supreme Court on  Jan. 22, 2016.
Margaret Chutich was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to the Minnesota Supreme Court on Jan. 22, 2016.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune file

Only a year into his second term, Walz will have appointed four.

So far, Walz has overseen the historic elevation to chief justice of Natalie Hudson, a Black woman, to lead the judiciary. His other two appointees are white men, Justices Gordon Moore and Karl Procaccini.

In May 2020, Walz chose Moore, who was then a Nobles County judge based in Worthington.

Last fall, Walz chose Hudson as chief to replace Chief Justice Laurie Gildea, who announced her surprise retirement last summer and stepped down Oct. 1. He also named his former general counsel, Procaccini, as an associate justice. Procaccini is the first Muslim on the court.

Three of the remaining justices are Dayton appointees. He put Hudson on the court as an associate justice in 2015. He also appointed Justices Anne McKeig and Paul Thissen.

Gildea and Anderson were appointed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Peter Knapp, Mitchell Hamline School of Law professor, said the court turnover is unusual, but not unheard of. Almost two decades ago, Pawlenty appointees held a majority on the court.

"It will mean a lot less than folks think it will," Knapp said. That's because of Minnesota's merit-based selection process and the issues that land in front of the court, he said.

The Minnesota Supreme Court generally issues three out of four opinions without a dissent and that's held steady for years, Knapp said.

"I don't think we'll see profound changes," the professor said. "These are not activist judges."

He pointed to Moore, Walz's first appointee, who now has a track record of three years on the court, as a solid, thoughtful justice. Chutich and Anderson both came to the Supreme Court after years on the Court of Appeals.

Knapp said Chutich brought to the high court strong knowledge about how the branches of government work together while Anderson ensured a statewide approach to the law as well as a commitment to accessibility and public understanding.

"That court should not be a mystery to Minnesotans and he helped make it less so," Knapp said.

Chutich is half of a Twin Cities power couple. Her spouse is University of Minnesota Regent Dr. Penny Wheeler, the retired CEO of Allina Health. Dayton appointed Chutich as the successor to Justice Wilhelmina Wright, who went on the federal bench.

Chutich and her spouse experienced a heartbreaking loss three years ago when their daughter Olivia Chutich died unexpectedly at age 21 outside her sorority house on a bitterly cold night at Iowa State University in Ames. She was found in the parking lot unresponsive the next morning.

Before going on the court, Chutich also was an assistant dean at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, deputy attorney general of the Law Enforcement Section in the Minnesota Attorney General's Office and assistant U.S. attorney for Minnesota.

A 1976 graduate of Anoka High School, Chutich lettered multiple times in tennis and basketball. She played basketball at Stanford before transferring to the University of Minnesota and playing tennis. She earned her law degree at the University of Michigan.

Court appointees in Minnesota do not require Senate confirmation. The successors to Chutich and Anderson will be on the statewide ballot in 2026.