Rosalie Wahl, the first woman to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court and the recipient of an honorary degree from Carleton College, passed away Monday, July 22 at the age of 88.
Justice Wahl overcame hardship and tragedy to fight for civil rights, women’s rights and equal access to justice. In 1962, at the age of 38, and “tired of sitting outside doors waiting for the men inside to make the decisions,” Wahl entered the William Mitchell School of Law. Her fifth and last child was born in 1964. In 1967 she graduated with her law degree and passed the state bar examination. Immediately thereafter she began working for the state as an assistant public defender. In 1972, the same year she and her husband divorced, Wahl taught criminal law at the University of Minnesota. The following year she accepted a professorship at William Mitchell where she directed the clinical legal education program.
In 1977 Governor Rudy Perpich appointed Wahl to the Supreme Court to replace Harry H. MacLaughlin. Wahl’s appointment was significant as she was the first woman jurist to sit on the state’s highest court. While on the Supreme Court, Wahl served as its liaison to the Court’s Study Commission on the Mentally Disabled and also chaired its task forces on gender fairness and racial bias.
Elected to the court in 1978 and successively reelected in 1984 and 1990, Wahl retired at the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1994. When she retired, women held four of the seven Supreme Court seats.
Wahl was awarded an honorary degree by Carleton College in 1987.