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Maynard E. Pirsig

Interim Justice, 1942-1942
Maynard E. Pirsig served as interim justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court for just three months in 1942, but his impact on the Minnesota judicial system is far reaching.

Born in Kossuth County, Iowa, (near Elmore, Minnesota) on January 9, 1902, Maynard E. Pirsig's education began at home, where he learned to speak German. He attended a one-room schoolhouse for elementary school and then Elmore High School, from which he graduated in 1919. Pirsig went on to the University of Minnesota, where he earned both a B.A. (1923) and an LL.B. (1925).  

He began his legal career with Legal Aid in 1924, allegedly turning down an opportunity to work for Dorsey & Whitney because Legal Aid paid better at the time. He served as director of the Legal Aid Society from 1925 to 1931 and was instrumental in incorporating it as an independent legal entity, operating as a professional law firm.  

In 1929, Pirsig began his teaching career by responding to an urgent request from Dean Fraser at the University of Minnesota Law School. Dean Fraser needed someone to teach suretyship, due to the illness of a faculty member. Despite the fact that he had not taken suretyship in law school, with the encouragement of the Dean, Pirsig accepted the position and successfully launched his teaching career. 

 Pirsig spent a year at Harvard (1931-1932) and then in an additional year in England (1933-1934) developing a course in judicial administration. In 1933, Pirsig returned to the University of Minnesota Law School where over the course of thirty-seven years, he taught courses on judicial administration, pleading, actions and equity, criminal law, evidence, insurance, and ethics. He also served as Dean of the Law School from 1948 to 1955 and published a number of books and articles, see list below. 

In 1942, after the sudden death of Justice Royal A. Stone, Governor Stassen, appointed Pirsig to finish Justice Stone's term. Even though Justice Pirsig only served three months on the court, he authored eleven majority opinions, five dissents, and several concurrences. 

After retiring from the University of Minnesota in 1970, Pirsig joined the faculty at William Mitchell College of Law, now Mitchell Hamline. He taught courses in criminal law and procedure, professional responsibility, and judicial administration and published several more books and articles.  At the point of his retirement in 1993, he was believed to have been the oldest person regularly teaching at any law school in the United States.

Justice Pirsig also served the legal profession through participation on several committees including: 

  • Minnesota State Judicial Council, Secretary, 1937-1951 
  • Advisory Committee of the Minnesota Division of Employment and security, Chairman, 1945-1956  
  • National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State law, 1947- ?
  • Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 1950-1957
  • Juvenile Court Committee, Chairman, 1953-1958
  • U.S. Department of Labor’s Industry Committee for Puerto Rico, 1955-?
  • Special Legislative Advisory Committee on the Minnesota Criminal Code, Reporter, 1957-1963
  • Minnesota Supreme Court Committee on Criminal Procedure, 1071-1990

Justice Pirsig died on February 5, 1997.

You may read more about the life and work of Justice Pirsig in the resources below and in Testimony: Remembering Minnesota's Supreme Court Justices, which is the source of this brief biography.

Books authored: 


Oral Histories: 


Articles About Justice Pirsig (available in the State Law Library in print or through HeinOnline)

Articles By Justice Pirsig (available in the State Law Library in print or through HeinOnline)

  • Maynard E. Pirsig, The Work of the Supreme Court of Minnesota, 25 Minn. L. Rev. 821 (1941) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, Merger by Judgment, 28 Minn. L. Rev. 419 (1944) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, A Course in Judicial Administration, 30 Iowa L. Rev. 387 (1945) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, A Course in Judicial Administration, 30 J. Am. Jud. Soc. 37 (1946) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, Integration of the Bar and Judicial Responsibility, 32 Minn. L. Rev. 1 (1947) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, Procedural Aspects of the Youth Conservation Act, 32 Minn. L. Rev. 471 (1948) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, A Survey of Judicial Councils, Judicial Conferences and Administrative Directors, 47 Brief 181 (1952) 
  • David W. Louisell & Maynard E. Pirsig, The Significance of Verbatim Recording of Proceedings in American Adjudication, 38 Minn. L. Rev. 29 (1953) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, The Proposed Amendment of the Judiciary Article of the Minnesota Constitution, 40 Minn. L. Rev. 815 (1956) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, The New Uniform Arbitration Act, 11 Bus. Law. 44 (1956) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, Some Comments on Arbitration Legislation and the Uniform Act, 10 Vand. L. Rev. 685 (1957) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, The Legal Aid Attorney, 36 Mich. St. B. J. 16 (1957) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt in Retrospect, 12 Rutgers L. Rev. 427 (1958) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, The Minnesota Uniform Arbitration Act and the Lincoln Mills Case, 42 Minn. L. Rev. 333 (1958)
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, Juvenile Delinquency and Crime: Achievements of the 1959 Minnesota Legislature, 44 Minn. L. Rev. 363 (1959-1960)
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, Proposed Revision of the Minnesota Criminal Code, 47 Minn. L. Rev. 417 (1962-1963) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, Arbitrability under the Uniform Act, 19 Bus. Law. 763 (1964) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, Legal Profession, 41 U. Colo. L. Rev. 373 (1969) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, The Constitutional Validity of Confining Disruptive Delinquents in Penal Institutions, 54 Minn. L. Rev. 101 (1969-1970)
  • Maynard E. Pirsig & Kenneth F. Kirwin, The N.C.C.U.S.L.’s New Uniform Rules of Criminal Procedure, 61 A.B.A. J. 848 (1975) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, Court Procedure and the Separation of Powers in Minnesota, 15 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 141 (1989) 
  • Maynard E. Pirsig, The Historical Role of the American Bar Association in Judicial Administration, 16 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 1195 (1990) 
Fun Fact: Justice Pirsig's son Robert M. Pirsig authored the popular book: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Maynard E. Pirsig Portrait
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