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Maynard E. Pirsig, Associate Justice 1942

Maynard E. Pirsig

Portrait of Maynard E. Pirsig


Maynard E. Pirsig, Justice in 1942. He taught law for 64 years.



Maynard Ernest 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 grew up speaking German until he started school. 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 married Harriet Shobeck and they had a son and a daughter. 

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, 1971-1990

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.    

Maynard Pirsig signature

Maynard Pirsig's signature from the Minnesota Supreme Court's Roll of Attorneys,1858-1970, p 223 (September 21, 1925), available online at: