Raised in South Dakota, a standout student, David Liilehaug at an early age knew he would have a series of excellent choices ahead. After graduating from Augustana College, he chose Harvard Law. Now he would be competing with the best of the best. Again, he excelled and all doors of opportunity were opened. It could have been a life of wealth and status, but he chose public service. That was his “True North”. He wanted to shape the discourse of the body politic.
He became active in the partisan political arena serving in campaigns from Walter Mondale’s to Paul Wellstone’s. But one problem with politics at this level is that it tends to underuse legal talent. His appointment as United States Attorney opened that door for fulfillment. Here, in Minnesota, we have been blessed with a series of excellent appointments who placed law above politics. The Office of United States Attorney was viewed as the finest in our legal system. David Lillehaug quickly stepped into this new role with enthusiasm and made it absolutely clear that professionalism in protecting the majesty of law would dominant and politics would remain a nonconcern. That is our legal system at its best.
When Governor Dayton elevated Lillehaug to the Minnesota Supreme Court , this will stand as one of the finest appointments ever. Our court needed Lillehaug’s legal intellect, his ability to work with others to frame decisions, and his talent for understandable communication. Invariably, it was his South Dakota upbringing, not his Harvard J.D, that spoke to us.
But we also knew that the Lillehaug character reflected the finest in ethics and used the Court to express the highest standards of decency. Now, poor health is compelling David Lillehaug to retire. We can honor him with testimonials, letters of gratitude, and expressions of good will. That is the reward of excellent public service and no one desires our gratitude more.
I know one thing, history will always place him with the best of the best. And, we as citizens, will always be grateful that David Lillehaug chose a life in public service. We have been extraordinarily well served.