Retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Esther Tomljanovich spoke Sept. 10 to a joint meeting of the League of Women Voters ABC and the Anoka-Ramsey Community College Student Senate.
“Community colleges made it possible for me to have the life I have had,” said Tomljanovich, who is a graduate of Itasca Community College.
“Without a close to home, affordable college I would never have been able to get a college education.”
Tomljanovich grew up in a rural area near the Iron Range of northern Minnesota and attended a one-room country school.
At 19 she enrolled in the St. Paul College of Law (now William Mitchell) and was the only woman graduate in her class.
When asked if the men in her class felt threatened by a woman, she said, “They were not concerned about me; they all knew they were going to get the better jobs. I surprised everyone, even my husband.”
After graduation Tomljanovich landed a job as assistant revisor of statutes for the state of Minnesota.
In 1977 Gov. Rudy Perpich appointed her as only the second woman district court judge and in 1990 she was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
She voted in “Clark vs. Carlson” to allow Arne Carlson’s name to appear on the gubernatorial ballot, and he beat Perpich who had appointed her.
“I hated to rule against my good friend, but judgments must be based upon evidence not political support,” Tomljanovich said.
“Judges can not pay political debts with rulings from the bench.”
It is one of her concerns that there is movement in Minnesota to allow more political influence in the courts, according to Tomljanovich.
“The Supreme Court must be free of political influence,” Tomljanovich said.
Tomljanovich has always supported women. In 1956 she served on Governor Rolvaag’s Commission on the Status of Women.
She is a founder of the Minnesota Women Lawyers and is a 40-year member of the Professional Women’s Association. She served as chairperson of the Implementation Committee of the Minnesota Supreme Court Task Force on Gender Fairness in the Courts.
Tomljanovich told attendees that she encourages women to enter the field of law.
“Women just have to work harder and smarter than men to get to the same place, but most women can do that if they put their minds to it,” she said.
“Things have changed so much, mostly for the better. The constitution is the limitation on excesses of government and the courts have to protect the minority from the majority.”
She encouraged everyone to get involved. “Get appointed to local boards and commissions, become informed, vote and if you think you can stand the heat, run for office,” Tomljanovich said.
“We need everyone to be involved to ensure that we keep the democracy we have.”
The League of Women Voters does not support or oppose any political candidate or party, according to Katherine Whelchel, membership chairperson, LV ABC.
The organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy, Whelchel said.
Membership is open to men and women of all ages.
For more information about League of Women Voters, visit www.lwvmn.org.
Anoka-Ramsey Community College is a non-partisan organization and neither supports or opposes any political position, Whelchel said.