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History of the Minnesota Supreme Court

The Minnesota Supreme Court was established in 1858, when the newly drafted state constitution provided for a separate Supreme Court.1  

Prior to statehood, Minnesota had a Territorial Supreme Court, which was established by the Organic Act of 1849.2  The justices of the Territorial Supreme Court, of which there were only three,  were all appointed by President Zachary Taylor and none were natives of Minnesota. The practice of Territorial Court was very different than that of our current Supreme Court in that the justices each oversaw trials of a district court within the territory and later convened as a group to review the decisions of those district courts, thus participating in the review of their own decisions.3 The Minnesota Constitution of 1858, did away with this practice, establishing a separate Supreme Court with the sole purpose of deciding appeals from lower courts.4 

The 1858 Minnesota Constitution provided that the justices would serve seven-year terms, which was longer than other government officials and was done to limit political influence and thus, keep the Court independent. The Court started with just three justices, but in 1881 a fourth seat was added due to the increased number of cases the Court would hear.5  That same year, the length of term was reduced to six years, which it remains today.6  In 1913, two additional "Commissioners" were added, who had the same duties as justices. In fact, the same Act that created their positions stipulated that the offices would be abolished once two additional seats were added to the Court.7  In 1930, the Minnesota Constitution was amended to increase the number of justices to seven and again in 1972, it was amended to increase the number to a minimum of six and a maximum of nine justices. Finally, in 1982 through the passage of another constitutional amendment, Minnesota established an intermediate court, the Minnesota Court of Appeals and reduced the number of justices on the Supreme Court to seven.8 

Online Resources: 

Print Resources:
  • History of the Minnesota Supreme Court by Russel O. Gunderson. KFM5912 .G7 1937
  • The Minnesota Supreme Court: 1979. Reprinted from "Minnesota Law Review", vol.64, no.6, July 1980. KFM5912.Z9 M55 1980
  • Testimony: Remembering Minnesota's Supreme Court Justices, Minnesota Supreme Court Historical Society, 2019. KFM5912 .T47 2019

3. Id.   
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