Court opponents don’t agree on what counts as experience
ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s youngest Supreme Court justice and his challenger agree experience is key to electing someone to the high court, but do not agree on which one has the right experience.
Justice David Stras touts his background of being a clerk for three federal judges, including Justice Clarence Thomas, as well as teaching, practicing law in Washington, D.C., writing law articles and serving on the Minnesota high court two years.
On the other hand, Tim Tingelstad said that at 52, he is about 14 years older than the incumbent, which translates into more experience. He has been judicial magistrate handling family law cases for 14 years after time as an assistant county attorney and private lawyer.
Minnesota voters are being asked to decide which kind of experience they prefer when they vote on Nov. 6.
It is Stras’ first election, after Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed him two years ago. Tingelstad, who lives in Bemidji, has run for justice three other times.
Stras said that his youth is an advantage.
“I have been on the cutting edge,” he said of court reform such as the current movement to file cases electronically.
He admitted he has spent less time in court as a lawyer than Tingelstad, but said he did work on a Washington murder case.
“You need all types on the court,” Stras said.
Tingelstad, however, said his background would make for a better justice.
Tingelstad termed Stras’ jobs “not practical legal experience.”
Beyond experience, the two disagree about how they should campaign.
Over the years, Tingelstad has drawn sharp criticism about his religious comments.
“I’m probably a terrible politician,” Tingelstad said. “It probably is the worst thing to tell people what your belief system is.”
His Web site says: “God wants to shine the light of his truth upon this state and nation again. My hope is that this message will encourage many to begin praying for the restoration of the truth of God’s word back into our public institutions.”
In an interview, Tingelstad denied that such comments mean that he would decide cases based on his religious belief.
If the people’s representatives in the Legislature ignore God’s will, he said, as a judge he has no authority to overrule the decision as long as it is constitutional.
Stras, the first Jew on the Minnesota Supreme Court, said that while he and his family practice their religion, “I do not think that God dictates any of my decisions,” adding that when he accepted the justice job he took an oath to the state, not to God.
“The outcome of the cases is less important than what the law requires,” he said.
The justice is like other incumbents who say politics should not be involved in judicial races. His campaign is co-chaired by two Republicans and two Democrats.
Tingelstad sought the Republican Party endorsement this year, but delegates to the state convention decided to forego endorsing anyone this year. All three incumbents were appointed by a Republican governor.