Judge Davis: a great legal mind

Black leadership: What’s the plan?

ThroughMyEyesnewMichael J. Davis, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, announced December 31, 2014, that he will step down as Chief U.S. District Judge, summer 2015, “but will remain active on the bench as a senior judge.” I have known Judge Davis for over 40 years, from when he joined as an attorney and commissioner on the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission (MCRC).

We served as commissioners along with two other African American commissioners, also attorneys, Pam Alexander and Lejune Lang. These three are among the greatest legal minds of Minnesota.

Judge Davis served nearly 21 years on the federal bench, seven as chief judge of the federal court of the Federal District of Minnesota. In a Star Tribune sub-headline, December 31, 2014, reporter Randy Furst quoted Chief Judge Michael Davis urging the powers that be “to continue advancing the diversity cause.” Furst wrote: “Davis, the only black federal judge in Minnesota history.”

Davis is a man of great principle, vision, and effectiveness, all important criteria for a judge. Why only one Black federal judge in Minnesota history?

Last week’s column discussed leadership in terms of “preparation,” for which the key is having a “plan to implement.” What has our leadership done to ensure by their efforts an African American will succeed Judge Michael Davis on the federal bench?

Recall how 21 years ago, the nomination for then Hennepin County District Judge Pam Alexander did not survive the political treachery of fellow DFLers undermining her nomination, and that then-Senator Paul Wellstone, one of the great liberal voices of Minnesota, found it necessary due to more DFL treachery to withdraw her nomination and nominate a White woman. These are historical facts. For powerful Minnesota politicians, these are taboo subjects, but not for this columnist.

Local Black leadership continues to avoid answering the question I always raise: What’s the plan? To avoid the question puts us in peril.

The state of Minnesota would have had the rare luxury, 21 years ago, of having two African American judges sitting on the federal bench. If it misses again, we might not have another sitting Black judge for 30 years. Diversity is a tool of inclusion. When Black leadership does not prepare, we get excluded.

The January 2, 2015 Star Tribune headline says it all: “Speculation mounts over who will succeed Federal Judge Michael Davis.” There are names now being talked about as possible successors to Judge Davis. How, if there was a plan?

One of the names which would provide the dual satisfaction of a highly qualified Black and highly qualified female, is that of Associate Supreme Court Justice Wilhemina Wright. Justice Wright, educated at Yale and Harvard, brings a significant portfolio of qualifications for consideration.

The selection evaluation committee stated résumés had to be submitted by January 9. A legacy of Judge Michael Davis is how passionately he was supported by the late Governor Rudy Perpich and the late Nellie Stone Johnson. They set Judges Davis, Wright, Alexander and Lang on their historic courses. For 10 years I’ve been asking “what’s the plan” regarding various issues. White Democrats and White Republicans have theirs; why not us?

Our Black leadership knows how this process works. They have known of this moment for seven years. Yet I saw no sign of a plan. One way to honor Judge Davis (one of Minnesota’s and America’s Chief Judges of a Federal District), would have been to have a recommendation, such as, for example, Wilhemina Wright.

To you, Judge Davis, a job well done, my friend.

Stay tuned.

For Ron’s hosted radio and TV show’s broadcast times, solutions papers, books and archives, go to www.TheMinneapolisStory.com. To order his books, go to www.BeaconOnTheHillPress.com.