From milking cows to deciding cases, Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson offers insights on success
By Brigid KellyTalon Staff Writer
The structure is intimidating. The awe-inspiring entrance doors nearly need a shoulder to force open. Footsteps echo from within the cavernous space while an impressive stairwell dominates the center of the building.
The fourth floor of the Minnesota Judicial Building in St. Paul is where Justice Paul H. Anderson has his chamber. He was appointed to the Supreme Court, the highest court in Minnesota, in 1994 by Governor Arne Carlson and has won re-election three times. Prior to his position on the Supreme Court, Justice Anderson was appointed Chief Judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 1992. His resume is heavy with community involvement through his service as a school board member, an associate/partner of a local law office and as an actor in local community historical/reenactment productions. Justice Anderson radiates an approachable personality with a sense of humor and captivating storytelling abilities. In addition to his numerous active roles in the community, his riveting communication skills are exposed through his frequent visits to schools across the state – Minnehaha will be hosting Justice Anderson as a guest speaker in January (see sidebar). In contrast, his analytical approach to issues and in-depth knowledge of the law reveal his ability to clarify positions he’s faced with in the courtroom.
The paintings that flank the walls of Justice Anderson’s chamber begin to tell an eventful story combining hard work, personal hardship and public service. Each piece of artwork depicts a portion of the Anderson’s Eden Prairie dairy farm.
“I grew up milking cows,” Justice Anderson recalled, “It taught me how to work hard, and it also taught me why I didn’t want to become a dairy farmer.”
The drive to work hard transferred into Justice Anderson’s life beyond farming as he went on to graduate cum laude from Macalester College and later from the University of Minnesota Law School. He went on to become a VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America) attorney (1968-1969), assistant to the Attorney General (1970-1971) and partner/associate at the LeVander & Miller Law offices (1971-1992).
“I’m like a kid in a candy shop, except instead of candy, it’s opportunity,” said Justice Anderson. “There’s nothing inevitable about my background that led me to be a judge. I did some things that shaped me in a way that once the opportunity was there I could take advantage of it.”
As Justice Anderson reflects on a career that has brought him to the state’s highest court, he concludes that choosing to follow the road not taken while consistently standing up for his beliefs – without fear – has been the best, though not always the easiest path.
Prior to being appointed to the Court of Appeals, Justice Anderson served as a Inver Grove Heights Independent School District board member and chair.
“I got elected to the school board and took [stances on] some real tough decisions that ultimately caused me to be defeated in the next [school board] election,” explained Justice Anderson. “While working for women’s athletics, [the athletic director] said to the school board, ‘We can’t have another sport for women because we can’t get the participation. Girls don’t like to sweat,’ I let it hang out there for a few seconds, and finally said, ‘I’m the father of two daughters, and I’m the uncle of the state champion in the hurdles who got a full ride to the University of Minnesota, and you’re telling me girls don’t like to sweat?”
Though his unpopular stances on prominent issues eventually led to his defeat, Justice Anderson found it to be a life-forming experience.
“Losing an election taught me that there’s life after defeat,” said Anderson. “Now, as a Justice, I don’t fear defeat.”
Justice Anderson goes beyond the issue of defeat by recognizing the qualities that brought him to the position he holds today.
“You need to have that fire in the belly. It’s not just ambition, it’s the drive that leads you to do the right things,” said Justice Anderson. “It’s about being curious, constantly questioning and expanding your knowledge.”
Justice Anderson is not only involved in the local community, but also cultures abroad. In May 2008, he visited China where he spoke to judges and students in the courts, law schools, universities and law enforcement while he also lectured in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou. Justice Anderson completed a lecture tour in Russia where he traveled across seven time zones in September 2010. Last February, he lectured in the Philippines and he recently entertained the Constitutional Court from Kosovo and will soon be hosting the top judges from Kyrgyzstan in 2011.
Minnehaha won’t be a foreign environment for Justice Anderson. As a deacon and ruling elder at House of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, Justice Anderson views his stance on religion as both “irrelevant and highly relevant” to his role as a judge on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
“It’s irrelevant in the sense that one should not make religion a template or a requirement,” he explained. “As a citizen, you should not decide that you want a judge based on his or her religion. But the relevance of religion is that I’m going to be a decision maker with a moral and ethical template as a result of my religious background that has shaped my character, virtue and moral values.”
Justice Anderson attends church each Sunday with the hope of finding guidance for the following week.
“I go to church not so interested in the theology itself, but how the theology informs me how to live my life,” said Justice Anderson. “A good sermon spends two to three minutes in Jerusalem and 15 minutes in the pew.”
Justice Anderson employs his moral and ethical template in making decisions he can stand behind.
“I believe there is a role for mercy and compassion in how you decide what is just,” said Justice Anderson. “However, I don’t talk about forgiveness in the context of how a judge renders a decision because that’s for society. I don’t forgive as a judge. I can, however, set up the circumstances for society to forgive by giving a just sentence and a just penalty.”
As the 76th judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Anderson makes his voice heard throughout the Minnesota Judicial Center and beyond. The echoing halls of the building provide a space for justice and integrity to prevail through the dedication of committed individuals like Justice Anderson.
“The key to success?” asked Justice Anderson. “I like to reference Woody Allen, ‘[70 percent] of success is showing up’ and preparing yourself for opportunity.”