Judicial Ceremony Through Political Eyes


Anyone watching Monday’s judicial swearing-in ceremony with political eyes may have had a different view than those who watched through judicial glasses.

Take Clarence Thomas, the U.S. Supreme court justice who came to deliver the oath to new Minnesota justice David Stras. Of all on stage, he seemed the most relaxed and even to enjoy the hour-and-a-half ceremony to its fullest.

When someone told a joke, Thomas issued the most gregarious laugh of anyone in a crowd of 600.

But when he took to the microphone, Thomas said a few quiet words about Stras and the judiciary. Quiet, indeed. It was tough for many to hear the man, who as high court justice is one of the most powerful people in the country.

The day’s biggest irony was that Ramsey County District Judge Kathleen Gearin hosted the event.

Thomas and David Wippman of the University of Minnesota Law School sat between Gearin and Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the stage’s front row. Pawlenty, who appointed Stras and Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, has been very critical of a ruling Gearin made earlier this year in which she said the governor’s unilateral cutting of the state budget was illegal.

Gildea opposed Gearin’s ruling, and wrote a dissenting opinion when the majority of the high court sided with Gearin. And Stras wrote a pro-Pawlenty legal brief in the case.

A chipper Gearin introduced Pawlenty, who appeared divert his eyes from hers when he walked to the podium.

Later, Gearin followed up on a fishing joke, turning to Pawlenty and saying that she understands that his wife, Mary, was the real angler of the family. The governor presented a forced smile.

In fact, Pawlenty wore an untypically somber face the entire ceremony, a day when he should have been happy to celebrate delivering a solid conservative majority on the high court.