From Student Council to the Senate Judiciary Committee
Senator Amy Klobuchar speaks on her life in law and public service
Published in 2022 Minnesota Super Lawyers magazine on July 18, 2022
When you were in private practice, was the idea that you would eventually go into public service?
I always was interested in public service, and I have been involved from the time I ran for secretary-treasurer of the Wayzata High School student council—where I saved the prom by raising money with Life Savers lollipops—to the work that I had done on political campaigns. I had worked for Mondale when I was in college for a summer, and by the time I ended up at Dorsey & Whitney after law school, I knew I wanted to practice law. But I also decided that on the volunteer side, I’m going to get involved in politics.
During that time, I managed Gloria Segal’s reelection. She was the beloved state legislator from St. Louis Park. I still remember Gloria calling me when I’m getting ready to go to work at 6 a.m.: “Let’s door-knock my opponent’s street again.” You’re ahead by like 25 points. “But oh, it really bugs him when we do it.”
I really decided to run for office later, after our daughter had been born and she was really sick. She couldn’t swallow, and I got kicked out of the hospital in 24 hours. She was in intensive care, but I was kicked out and I could hardly think. And I went to the legislature and got the law changed by testifying, so that every new mom and their baby gets 48 hours.
When you think back on your early days in law, what else comes to mind?
I have a very funny memory of Jack Mason at Dorsey. He was a notoriously intense partner, and one time he called me in his office. He said, “I know there’s a case out here that says such-and-such, and I need it for a brief tomorrow, and your job is to find it.” I’m a brand-new attorney. I spent all night and I found this case. I went in there with hardly any sleep and said, “Here’s the case.” And he said, “Oh my God, I can’t even believe it exists. I was pretty much making it up. I never thought you’d find it.” So that was my welcome to a big law firm.
What was your proudest achievement as Hennepin County attorney?
I loved the lawyers in the office. They worked really hard. We did a lot with prosecuting domestic violence cases. Of course, our first goal was to keep the county safe. We had decreasing crime rates at the time. I worked a lot with the Innocence Project, and one of the things I’ve argued to be changed since then is to not use the grand jury to make decisions about police shootings. That’s something that everyone was doing at the time, including our office, but I think it was a good move to change it.
Do you have any advice for young lawyers?
Finding your purpose, what you really want to do in the law, is important. But there’s a tendency now to have less loyalty to institutions. I think staying and really giving it a try—unless it’s really miserable—is appreciated, even wherever you go next. As much as possible, go into work so you can meet the people you’re working with. Once you get into it, I think you’re going to learn more if you can directly work with people instead of just on Zoom. And the other thing is getting involved in pro bono.
You’ve been a member of the Judiciary Committee since 2009. What are your thoughts on that role?
At first, I actually didn’t [join] the Judiciary Committee, because I thought, “Oh, I did that. I’m a lawyer.” Someone said to me after about a year, “You know a lot about this stuff. Why didn’t you get on the Judiciary Committee? Sometimes in the Senate, it’s a good idea to use your own expertise.” And so I got on it, and it’s allowed me to do so many different things. Obviously, there’s the importance of confirming judges and the Supreme Court nomination hearings—I’ve now been through five of them.
Then, having to make sure we get good judges and U.S. attorneys from Minnesota—I had to work to get the nominees that I thought would be good during the Trump administration: Erica MacDonald, and then, of course, Andy Luger and Todd Jones—they were all excellent U.S. attorneys. I’m proud of that. I recommended to the White House the first openly gay U.S. Marshal in Sharon Lubinski. So that was also a positive moment.
I’ve also been able to carry on some of my work from Hennepin County on domestic violence, and played a major role in those bills, as well as human trafficking. And then I’d say the final thing is growing up with my dad struggling with alcoholism, I’ve been able to lead the way on federal drug court funding on some of the mental health work, working with Tina Smith. It’s been rewarding. And my latest challenge, of course, is reforming our antitrust laws—no small thing.
You might remember writing a piece for our first-ever Super Lawyers edition of Minnesota Law & Politics magazine. It was very well received.
The other thing that’s so funny is that cover I was on later, in 2003. That was a takeoff of Vanity Fair. I saw Allen Saeks at Andy Luger’s investiture and we were recalling this cover many, many years later. It was kind of a funny group. I think I borrowed the necklace that I’m wearing so I would look like the Hollywood type.