Although I never met Judge Miles Lord, when he passed on December 10, 2016, I attended his memorial service at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Excelsior, Minnesota. The public filled the pews, and his children and grandchildren shared anecdotes from Lord’s long and accomplished life. Afterward, when everyone filed into the cafeteria for lunch, admirers passed the microphone to talk about everything from Lord’s sense of humor to his driving style. All of this was moving, and this type of love and community is what one hopes for at any celebration of life. I left eager to learn more about this man affectionately named, “The People’s Judge.”
Months later, in October 2017, I attended a public reading of Miles Lord at Common Good Books in St. Paul. During the Q&A, one after another attendees stood up and expressed their appreciation. Some knew Lord personally but many more knew him only as the one federal judge who, during the Dalkon Shield litigation, did not hesitate to protect them. As I listened, I was once again moved — I suppose a large life warrants a large celebration — and it is hard to imagine any living judge (let alone elected official) receiving the same tribute.
With all of this swirling in the back of my mind, I decided to review Roberta Walburn’s Miles Lord: The Maverick Judge Who Brought Corporate America to Justice (2017) for Minnesota History (Spring 2018). It is the only biography of Lord’s life, and even though it is not without its weak points, it is great case study of what progressive lawyering can look like.
What follows is an excerpt:
In Miles Lord [. . .], Roberta Walburn tells the story of the man Hubert Humphrey once described as “the people’s judge” and who was perhaps the most consequential (and controversial) judge ever to serve on the US District Court for Minnesota. The book is structured through alternating chapters that juxtapose Lord’s life (1919–2016) with his involvement in what was, at the time in the 1980s, one of the largest tort liability cases in the country— the litigation for the Dalkon Shield intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD). Walburn’s approach reveals the threads that ran through Lord’s life and guided his judicial decision- making.
[. . .]
The activism Lord engaged in openly, many do privately. In Lord’s eyes, the law was not neutral, and he often observed, “There is one set of laws for the rich and powerful and another for the poor and oppressed.” Walburn’s book illustrates that Lord loved a good fight, and that he was ambitious. But he coupled this ambition with lessons learned from a lifetime of service: that those with the power to make the world a better place had a duty to do so.
You can read the full book review here.