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Supreme Court Justices Oral History Project: Interview with Rosalie Erwin Wahl
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Rosalie Wahl was born in Gordon, Kansas in 1924 to Claude Erwin and Gertrude Patterson Erwin. She was named Sara Rosalie Erwin, but has always gone by the name Rosalie. She had two older sisters, Mary, born 1918 and Jeanette, born 1920, and one younger brother, Billy, born 1926. Her mother died when she was almost four years old; she was raised by her grandparents Harry and Effie Patterson. She attended high school in Caney, Kansas and graduated in 1942. She attended the University of Kansas initially to study journalism but left college after one year to briefly teach in Birch Creek, Kansas. She returned to the University to study sociology and graduated the summer of 1946. She married Roswell Wahl in August 1946 and had five children: Christopher born 1947, Sara born 1949, Timothy born 1952, Mark born 1955 and Jenny born 1964. The family moved to Circle Pines, Minnesota in 1949 and to Lake Elmo, Minnesota in 1955. Wahl attended William Mitchell College of Law from 1962 to1967 and passed the bar exam in March 1967. She and her husband divorced in 1972. Wahl was appointed in 1977 as the first woman justice to the Minnesota Supreme Court and was sworn in in October 1977. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Her family; role of women in the farming community; importance of school and teachers in her early life; the encouragement to learn; how school prepared her to do things when there was no one to smooth the way; her University experiences; teaching Birch Creek; death of her fiancé and the impact on her life; the opportunities women had on campus while the men were in the military for World War II; campus activities; early civil rights activities; trying to decide what to do after graduation; Roswell Wahl; tutoring at U of Kansas; dreams of a cooperative society; the move to Minnesota in 1949, to the cooperative community of Circle Pines; community involvement in Circle Pines; heading the caucus in Lake Elmo; local government involvement. The decision to attend law school; attending William Mitchell Law School; going to school during her last pregnancy; Phi Delta Delta (women's legal fraternity); the professors at William Mitchell; her first job with the state public defender's office; her first post-conviction case with that office; argued 109 cases before the state supreme court; appellate advocacy; the supreme court; likes and dislikes about her job as a public defender; beginnings of and involvement in Minnesota Women Lawyers; her divorce; clinical teaching at William Mitchell and the University of Minnesota; teaching legal ethics and client representation. Her appointment to the Supreme Court; the strength of the DFL Feminist Caucus and how they persuaded Governor Perpich to appoint a woman; the long process prior to appointment; why she was chosen; serving as an advocate; her swearing-in ceremony; the life of a justice; how the supreme court justice system works; service on the court's Commission on the Mentally Disabled and the Court; running for reelection; fighting false accusations during campaigns; how judicial campaigns are like regular political campaigns; the campaign against Robert Mattson, and his campaign tactics. Work with legal education and the accreditation process; service to Accreditation Committee of the American Bar Association; making clinical education necessary for accreditation; encouraging diversity in law schools; chairing the Supreme Court Task Force on Gender Fairness and its impact on gender equity in the court system; the study of racial bias in the courts; implementing the racial bias report's recommendations; the democratic way in which the supreme court justices operate; how the court's role changed after the establishment of the Court of Appeals; importance of gender balance on the Supreme Court; different dynamics in the court when there was a female majority of justices; cases in which her perspective as a woman influenced her decision making; useful dissents; how she deals with cases and how that process has changed during her time as a justice; role of law clerks; important cases and majority decisions; dissenting opinions and why she would issue them; the notion of the Minnesota State Supreme Court interpreting differently language in the Minnesota constitution which is identical to the federal constitution. Supporting other women as they go into law; plans for her life after retirement. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: This interview between Justice Wahl and Professor Cooper is recorded on three hour long VHS videotapes that are cataloged with Justice Wahl's papers. Supplementary material provided by the interviewer and Stacy Doepner-Hove, Executive Director, Minnesota Women Lawyers are cataloged with Justice Wahl's papers also.
4 hours sound cassette
92 pages transcript
Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
04:34:45 running time
Interviewee: Wahl, Rosalie E. (Rosalie Erwin)
Interviewer: Cooper, Laura
Made in: Saint Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota, United States
|Holding Type||Oral History - Interview|
OH 70 (Library Call Number)
AV2000.18.1 (Accession Number)
MNHS Library Catalog
Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Supreme Court Justices Oral History Project'