Minnesota judge who went easy on violent arsonist is on Biden’s SCOTUS shortlist

Judge Wilhelmina Wright is one of several top candidates for the soon-to-be vacant Supreme Court seat.

Judge Wilhelmina Wright/Wikimedia Commons

A U.S. district judge serving the District of Minnesota is said to be on President Joe Biden’s “shortlist” to replace the retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

But Minnesotans might remember her for her leniency in the sentencing of a violent arsonist.

Judge Wilhelmina Wright is one of several top candidates for the soon-to-be vacant Supreme Court seat, as outlets like The Hill and Forbes have reported.

Wright, nominated to the federal bench by former President Barack Obama in 2015, has previously served as a state district court judge, appellate court judge, and state Supreme Court justice. Thus far she is the only judge in Minnesota state history to have served in all these capacities.

Wright was the judge overseeing the case of Montez Terriel Lee Jr., who was only charged with and convicted of arson after he burned down a Minneapolis pawn shop during the George Floyd riots in 2020. His crime killed a father of five trapped inside; Oscar Lee Stewart Jr.’s body was not found until July 20 — almost a full two months after the May 28 fire.

Sentencing guidelines recommended 19.5 to 20 years in prison for Lee, but Judge Wright settled on 10 years, ostensibly as a compromise between Lee’s defense (who pushed for seven years) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas-Calhoun Lopez (who argued for 12 years).

“You are more than the person who celebrated your actions on social media as if there was anything worth celebrating. You are more than the person that destroyed that business by fire,” she told Lee in court, according to the Rochester Post Bulletin. “You are more than the person who set that fire that killed a man.”

As a presidential candidate in 2020, Joe Biden vowed to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court if a seat became open, meaning Wright is just one of several black female judges whom Biden is considering.

“I’m looking forward to making sure there’s a black woman on the Supreme Court to make sure we in fact get everyone represented,” he said at a February 2020 debate during the Democratic presidential primary.


Evan Stambaugh

Evan Stambaugh is a freelance writer who had previously been a sports blogger. He has a BA in theology and an MA in philosophy.