Retired Minn. justice Douglas Amdahl diesby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Douglas Amdahl died Tuesday, according to a court spokesman. He was 91.
Amdahl was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court in July 1980, and was elevated to chief justice in December 1981. He served in that capacity until 1989.
Amdahl was a leader in establishing the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which was was created in 1983.
Prior to that, a person who believed a district judge erred in a case could only appeal to Minnesota's Supreme Court, and that panel's caseload was growing so quickly that it often took up to three years to issue rulings.
Amdahl traveled the state to talk to people about the importance of creating an appeals court, former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Eric Magnuson told MPR's Morning Edition.
"He went anywhere in the state where he could get four or five people together to talk about it. He traveled incessantly," said Magnuson, who clerked for Amdahl when Amdahl was chief judge for Hennepin County District Court. "He was my inspiration for getting out and talking to the public when you had an important issue."
Some critics believed the Court of Appeals would just be another legal layer to wade through. But in the end, Minnesota voters approved a constitutional amendment creating the new court, and Douglas Amdahl administered the oath of office to the first six appeals court judges on Nov. 2, 1983.
"I had the general feeling that if this day should ever come -- when I could attend the investiture of the appeals court judges -- that there would be choirs singing, bands playing and dancing in the aisles," Amdahl said during the ceremony. "And while those things are not taking place publicly so that you can see and hear them, I can assure you that they are taking place within me at this moment."
Once the appeals court was established, it needed space in which to work. At the time, the Supreme Court worked in the East Wing of the State Capitol, but there was no room for the Appeals Court.
Amdahl pushed for a new building on the Capitol mall to be dedicated to the judicial branch, and the Minnesota Judicial Center was completed in 1992. Amdahl was born in January 1919, in the small town of Mabel, Minn. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota in 1946, and his law degree from William Mitchell College of Law in 1951.
Prior to his appointment to the high court, Amdahl served as a judge in Hennepin County District Court.
Magnuson said Amdahl cared for people and stayed in touch with all his clerks. He was known for his signature crew cut and a scar on his face he got from being in a car accident as a child.
"He looked mean as heck but he was just a wonderful, open, warm human being," Magnuson said.
(MPR's Elizabeth Stawicki Elizabeth Dunbar contributed to this report)
- Morning Edition, 08/25/2010, 6:25 a.m.