Rosalie Wahl, First Woman on Minn. Supreme Court, Dies at 88

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on July 25, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A somber moment for the Eighth Circuit, Rosalie Wahl, the first woman to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court, passed away on Monday at age 88. Wahl, who was appointed to Minnesota’s highest court in 1977 by Gov. Rudy Perpich, wrote more than 500 legal opinions during her 17 years there, reports the Minnesota Public Radio.

In 2006, when a group commissioned a portrait of Wahl to hang permanently at William Mitchell law school, she recalled a lack of visible female role models in her time. “When I went to law school, I’d sit in the library and down at the end, they had a portrait. And the portrait was of John Sanborn, who […] was a judge of the 8th Circuit, I think,” she said. “I never saw a woman judge. I never had a chance to practice in front of one.”

"She had to buck the good ol' boys," Betty Wilson, a longtime friend and political reporter, said to the Star Tribune. "The male establishment lined up against her and gave her a hard time."

Five men challenged Wahl for her seat on the state's highest court. She defeated them all. Moral of the story: Don't mess with Rosalie Wahl.

Once she was on the bench, she took biases to task -- literally. Wahl played an instrumental role in creating Supreme Court task forces on racial discrimination and gender fairness. She helped pave the way for people traditionally marginalized by the legal system to serve on the court, reports MPR.

"She was very much instrumental in ensuring opportunity of access for women and people of color as judges, but also with her work on the committee that looked into gender bias and racial bias in our judicial system," said Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page.

Beyond a keen awareness of the law and a firm belief in fairness, Wahl also demonstrated her humanity through her love for writing poetry. One of her poems about her early home in Kansas, shared by MPR, feels particularly fitting to close with:

"Here I have lived. / Here let me die. / By yonder Birch Creek let me lie. / Birch leaves drifting on the sands / where I built castles with my hands in youth / and listened to the call, / Meadowlarks on grass tall. / Black-oaked horizons, skies above, / bound for me this land I love. / Birch Creek. Within your heart I lie./ As long as you live, / so shall I."

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