Skip to Main Content
Minnesota State Law Library Logo

Minnesota State Law Library

Harry H. MacLaughlin, Associate Justice 1972-1977

Harry H. MacLaughlin

Portrait of Justice Harry MacLaughlin

Harry Hunter MacLaughlin was appointed Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1972 and served until 1977, when he was appointed to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter  


Born August 9, 1937 in Breckenridge, Minnesota, Harry Hunter MacLaughlin was raised in the nearby community of Wahpeton, North Dakota, where he completed his primary and secondary education. Like many of his generation, service in World War II interrupted MacLaughlin's pursuit of higher education, but did not prevent it. MacLaughlin served in the U.S. Navy from 1945-1946 as a yeoman and returned to the University of Minnesota to complete his Bachelor's degree in Business Administration in 1949. 

After working a few years in business, MacLaughlin returned to the University of Minnesota to complete a law degree. It was in law school that MacLaughlin met the man that would be a life-time friend, fellow clerk, and law partner, Walter Mondale. Together they clerked for the Minnesota Supreme Court during the 1955-1956 term and then went on to work for Loevinger, Lindquist, Freeman & Fraser (recently known as Lindquist and Vennum and today known as Ballard Spahr). A year later, they formed their own firm, MacLaughlin & Mondale. 

While practicing law, MacLaughlin also served as an instructor at William Mitchell College of Law (now Mitchell Hamline) and raised two sons with his wife, Mary Jean (Shaffer), whom he married in 1958. 

In 1972, Governor Wendell R. Anderson appointed MacLaughlin to the Minnesota Supreme Court as Associate Justice. he held the position for five years, authoring 160 opinions, until President Carter appointed him to the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota in 1977.

Judge MacLaughlin served on the U.S. District Court for 28 years, taking senior status in 1992, but continuing to serve until his death on May 3, 2005. In 1983, the American Lawyer named Judge MacLaughlin the best judge in the federal Eighth Circuit. Judge MacLaughlin also served as a guest lecturer at the University of Minnesota Law School. In 1995, the regents of the University of Minnesota awarded him the university's Outstanding Achievement Award. 

You may read more about the life and work of Justice MacLaughlin 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 Harry H. MacLaughlin

Image credit: Harry H. MacLaughlin's signature from the Minnesota Supreme Court's Roll of Attorneys,1858-1970, p 324 (October 23, 1956), available online at:

Highlighted Resources