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By Andrew Tellijohn and Don Davis, State Capitol Bureau, Published May 14 2010

Pawlenty picks Gildea, Stras for court posts

ST. PAUL – Two people who sided with Gov. Tim Pawlenty in a historic lawsuit about his budget-cutting powers earned his support on Thursday with Supreme Court positions.

The Republican governor appointed as chief justice a current justice who wrote a dissenting opinion last week when the high court ruled Pawlenty illegally cut spending last summer.

New Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, 48, has roots in rural western Minnesota. The University of Minnesota Morris graduate said growing up in Plummer made her what she is.

Pawlenty named as a justice a young law professor who wrote a legal brief on his behalf in that suit and who belongs to a conservative legal organization.

David Stras once worked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative, and belongs to the Federalist Society, which calls “individual liberty, traditional values and the rule of law” its priorities.

The appointments came an hour after the Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution allows governors to fill judicial vacancies without requiring an election. Gildea and Stras said they plan to seek election when their terms end.

Gildea has served on the state’s high court since January 2006. She replaces Eric Magnuson, who announced in March that he would leave the court at the end of June.

Pawlenty said that he looked at a broad range of Gildea’s assets, not her dissent from the ruling that went against him. He interviewed all three Wednesday morning and made his decision later in the day.

Before joining the Supreme Court, Gildea briefly served as a Hennepin County District Court judge and as an assistant Hennepin county attorney.

University of Minnesota General Counsel Mark Rotenberg, her boss for nine years, said he routinely assigned Gildea to the school’s toughest cases.

“She amassed a record of success that would be the envy of any trial lawyer in Minnesota,” he said.

Peter Knapp, William Mitchell College law professor, said anyone making a list of chief justice candidates “would have had Justice Gildea on the list,” he said. “I don’t think it can be much of a surprise that (Pawlenty) chose her.”

Stras has been on the faculty of the University of Minnesota Law School since 2004 and is a lawyer at Faegre & Benson.

At 35, the suburban Wayzata resident is one of the youngest Supreme Court justices ever.

According to the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board, Stras has only had his license to practice in Minnesota since September 2009, although that probably is because he did not need it while teaching at the university, said board Director Martin Cole.

Tellijohn and Davis report for Forum Communications Co.