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C. Donald Peterson, Associate Justice 1967-1986

C. Donald Peterson

Portrait of C. Donald Peterson

Prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court in 1966, C. Donald Peterson served in the U.S. Air Force and in the Minnesota House of Representatives.  





Carl Donald Peterson was born on February 2, 1918 in Minneapolis, Minnesota to parents Karl Peterson and Emma Sellin Peterson. He was the youngest of ten children. He attended Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, where he was the president of the school student body. He also participated in speech and debate, winning a state high school championship in original oratory. He graduated from Minnehaha Academy in 1935.    

Peterson attended North Park Junior College in North Park, Illinois from 1935 to 1937. He then returned to Minnesota and graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota in 1939 with a degree in political science. He participated in speech and debate while at the University of Minnesota and won the Pillsbury Original Oratory Competition in 1939. He earned his LL.B., with honors, from the University of Illinois in 1941. He was admitted to practice law in Minnesota in 1941. Peterson was admitted to practice law before the United States Supreme Court in 1950. He practiced law in Minnesota from 1946 to 1966.   

During World War II, Peterson served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Peterson also served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. Peterson served as a senior legal officer, handling major military trials and criminal appeals. He received a Bronze Star and was the recipient of a U.N. Medal for his service.

In 1952, Peterson married his wife Gretchen. The couple had six children, three of whom went on to practice law. 

In 1958, Peterson was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives. He represented Hennepin County's District 36 from 1959 to 1963. During his first term, his fellow legislators voted him "the most promising of the first-termers." During his second term, Peterson was the Assistant Minority Leader. In 1962, he ran unsuccessfully for Minnesota Lieutenant Governor with Governor Elmer L. Anderson. You can read more about Peterson's time in the legislature in the member record compiled by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library (linked below). 

In 1966, Peterson was elected to the Minnesota Supreme Court. He served on the Supreme Court for 19 years from January 1967 until January 1986, when he retired for health reasons.

From 1971 to 1981, Peterson served as the Chair of the Minnesota Press Council. He was also co-chairman of a national task force to establish a National News Council in 1972. 

Peterson died on December 19, 1987 from cancer. He had suffered from lymphoma since 1969.  

You may read more about the life and work of Justice Peterson in the Minnesota Supreme Court Historical Society's book: Testimony: Remembering Minnesota's Supreme Court Justices, which is a source of this brief biography.

Signature of C. Donald Peterson in the Attorney Rolls

C. Donald Peterson's signature in the Roll of Attorneys, Supreme Court, State of Minnesota, 1858-1970, p. 275. Available online at: