He views the change as simply ‘going on to the next thing’
Alan Page became the first Black Minnesota Supreme Court justice in 1993. His days on the bench officially end at the end of this month. He will retire on August 31 after 22 years as the seventh-longest serving court justice in state history.
Page sincerely hopes that sitting judges will stay away from politics, but he is afraid this has become increasingly harder to do. “The judicial system in the last 15 years has been under a great deal of pressure to allow judges to talk about their political views, social values with respect to issues that will come before the court, [and] both judges and candidates [are] under pressure to solicit campaign contributions,” explained Page last week in an MSR phone interview.
“Once you have judges engaged directly in raising money, I think that’s a serious danger to judges’ ability to be impartial,” continued Page. “If we are not impartial or if we’re perceived to be not impartial, we’re in trouble.
“As a society, the only power that courts have is to have the trust and confidence of the people we serve. If people don’t have trust and confidence that when they come into the courtroom their side of the case will be heard, and it is pre-determined by some political party or some business organization…then I think all bets are off.”
As the first Black state supreme court justice completes his packing, which Page admitted has been ongoing for nearly six months now, he hasn’t had much time for self-reflection. “I’ve never been [one] to look back and try to second guess what I’ve done. In terms of second-guessing cases, you can’t do that as a judge. You start doing that, you’ll become unable to make decisions.
“I worked very hard to do it well and do it right in the first instance,” said Page. “For better or worse, whatever the outcome is, I never have been very good being in the past or to pat myself [on the back] or kick myself and wish I’d done [something different].”
Ever since he was a fourth grader, Page wanted to be a lawyer. He graduated from the U of M Law School in 1978, three years before he retired from pro football after 15 seasons in 1981. He became a judge several years later.
As a result, he consistently advises young people that pursuing an education and accomplishing big dreams is entirely possible “if they are willing to prepare themselves. They can put themselves in the position to have the same kind of success that I have had in whatever field.”
In response to being reminded that his 22-year tenure as a justice is seven years longer than his 15 years in the NFL — 11 of which were with the Minnesota Vikings — including four Super Bowl appearances and being inducted in 1988 into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his hometown of Canton, Ohio, Page said, “It never occurred to me, certainly not early on or anytime as a judge,” stated Page. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been elected and reelected, and given the opportunity to do the thing I’ve been able to do here on the court.”
Asked if he’s most often seen as Alan Page the supreme court justice or Alan Page the former football player who’s a judge, “I’m not sure that people looking at me who know about my [football] career don’t know me as the judge,” said Page. “There are still a lot of people who recognize that I was a football player, but they also recognize that I am a judge. I don’t know if they necessarily separate the two.”
State law requires that judges retire once they reach age 70. Page’s 70th birthday was August 7. “They call it retirement from the court. They called it retiring from football, too,” he noted. “There wasn’t much retirement after that.
“I look upon it more [as] leaving the court and going to the next thing. I don’t think things will be dramatically different here.”
He expects his post-judicial life to include his nonprofit foundation that provides college scholarships for students of color. He presently has no plans to abdicate his advocacy for children because he is stepping down from the bench. He wants young people, especially those of color, “to figure out what you want to [do] and prepare yourself in ways that will allow you to take advantage of opportunities as they may come along.
“They can make great contributions and be great contributors to our society and for themselves,” he continued. “They can make great contributions to the community as well as to derive the benefits for themselves.”
Told that he doesn’t look like a man whose 70th birthday took place only a couple of weeks ago, Page quipped, “Whether I’m 70 or not, the clock does not lie.” Since the late 1970s, he took up marathon running and remains an active runner today.
“Once I took up running, [it] has been both beneficial to my physical health and to my mental and emotional health — maybe even more so to my mental and emotional health. Both my wife and I worked hard to stay active, both physically and mentally. We’ve been very fortunate with our health.”
Page refuses to offer any summation of his two-decades-plus justice career: “I will let other people do that. I’ve done what I thought was right to the best of my ability. The cases and the laws that I’ve worked on and how it is perceived, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking [about it]. I did the best I could since I’ve been here.
“I had so much fun that it is almost unfair to call what I have been doing for 22 years a job.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.