ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Rosalie Wahl, the first woman to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court, died Monday at age 88.
Wahl’s daughter, Jenny Blaine, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that her mother was taken to the emergency room Sunday evening and died of natural causes Monday morning.
Wahl was remembered by many as a remarkable jurist whose accomplishments paved the way for other women and whose deep commitment to justice formed the heart of her work.
“The courts were her concept of a sacred space, where everybody could be equally treated,” said Harriet Lansing, a retired Minnesota Court of Appeals judge and close friend of Wahl’s. “And she worked so hard to bring that about.”
Wahl was appointed by then-Gov. Rudy Perpich in 1977 and served on the state’s highest court for 17 years. The court created gender-fairness and racial-bias task forces while she served, the Star Tribune reported.
Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page said Wahl opened the door for people traditionally marginalized by the legal system to serve on the court.
“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,” Page told Minnesota Public Radio News. “She was all about ensuring fairness for everyone and access for everyone.”
Wahl grew up in poverty in rural Kansas. She was raised by her grandmother after her mother died when she was 3.
A law school student at age 38, Wahl raised her five children while taking night classes at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. She graduated in 1967 and became a state public defender, and later started teaching law at William Mitchell in 1973.
Perpich, a Democrat, had been under pressure from women’s groups to appoint a woman to the bench. At the time of her appointment, Wahl said that women lawyers were concerned about the “definite lack of perspective” that placed so few of them in high court positions.
The Minnesota Supreme Court later became the first state Supreme Court in the country with a majority of women. Wahl retired in 1994.
In a statement, Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea called Wahl “a trailblazer” for the state.
“She will be remembered with fondness and respect for her unwavering commitment to the principle of equal justice for all,” Gildea said.
Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement that Wahl “overcame barriers throughout her life to achieve remarkable success.”
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