Prepared remarks: In memory of North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (Feb. 4, 2022)
Remarks at the Ginsburg-Scalia Initiative Conference hosted by the Attorney General Alliance
As we begin this conference, we do so somberly as we have lost a dear friend and colleague. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem was my predecessor as Chair of the Attorney General Alliance, he was my friend, and he lived the values we will be celebrating this weekend. Values like being warm to all; treating everyone with dignity; valuing listening and genuine reflection; and collaborative problem-solving. He was, in short, an exemplar of what Western Attorneys General seek to be. He was set to join us this weekend but unexpectedly passed last week. We will miss him dearly. Let’s take a moment of silence, and think about Wayne, and what we would say to him if we had the opportunity.
This conference is dedicated to Wayne, who lived the values we will discuss this weekend. And as we continue in our work on the Ginsburg Scalia Initiative, we will do so with his memory in mind. At our summer conference on this work, Wayne made a crucial point that cut to the heart of how we as AGs should operate—we and our teams should always ask “what will the other side have to say?” As we discuss the critical issues this weekend, and beyond, I will continue to think about Wayne and his approach to serving as an AG.
I know that everyone here has stories about Wayne. About his big heart, his commitment to fairness, to open-mindedness, to treating everyone kindly, and to engaged dialogue. Let me share my favorite one. As many know, there are many sign-on letters that come to attorneys general in which we are asked to lend our support. In this case, I was not sure that signing a particular letter felt right to me, and I talked to Wayne. He raised a fairness concern—about how the letter depicted an affected actor—and said that he was not signing on for that reason. I followed his lead.
After he announced his intent to retire earlier this year, Wayne was celebrated by the leaders in North Dakota for his distinguished career in public service. One comment he made when he said he is stepping down at the end of the current term is relevant to this conference and underscores why Wayne’s example will always stay with me. He expressed his concern about “an erosion of civility in politics, especially anonymous criticism on social media.” He set for all of us a true example of how to live the value of civility and his we should all be mindful of his well-articulated concern. I will treasure my memory of Wayne and look to it as an inspiration. And as we do the work of fortifying the norm of respectful engagement, civil dialogue, and collaborative problem solving, we have a model for that work in our memory of Wayne. May it live on with all of us as a blessing.