MinnPost: New biography of Judge Miles Lord recalls two big cases involving health issues

By Susan Perry

Miles Lord (Roberta Walburn)In an absorbing and page-turning biography, Roberta Walburn describes the remarkable life and career of Miles Lord (1919-2016), one of Minnesota’s most influential — and controversial — jurists. Like so many of the Midwestern social-gospel progressives of his generation, including Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and Walter Mondale (all of whom feature largely in the book), Lord came from humble beginnings — in his case, the Iron Range. But through grit, hard work and political savvy, Lord managed to achieve a long-held goal: to become a U.S. district judge. In that position — and in all others he held throughout his career — Lord championed the “little guy” against the rich and powerful, whether the cases involved environmental health, consumer health, education reform or women’s rights. He was what is called today "an activist judge." And for that, as Walburn notes, “he was loved and he was hated, a hero and a villain.”

In 1974, for example, in what is now considered a landmark environmental trial, Lord shut down the Reserve Mining Company for polluting Lake Superior with taconite tailings. That order got him yanked off the case by the 8th Circuit Court, a personal and professional humiliation. Yet, in the eyes of many then — and now — Lord is viewed as having saved Lake Superior. 

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