A tireless jurist, trailblazer for other women, and UNM professor dedicated to and admired by her students, she was said to have influenced more young female lawyers than any other individual in the state. In 1999, she became the first woman Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court.
One of approximately twenty women in the Harvard law class of five hundred, she and her female classmates found their job search after law school challenging. Law firms were recruiting male graduates but ignoring the women. The female students, well versed in their legal rights, pushed to interview with every single Boston Law Firm, reportedly forcing one well dressed Boston lawyer interviewer to back up against the wall, aghast at the sight of six women walking through the door to be interviewed for a job. The female law students were helped by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination in employment on the basis of sex. After rejecting a position as an office manager, the future Chief Justice Minzner was hired as an attorney with the Boston firm of Bingham, Dana and Gould.
After marrying Richard Minzner, a fellow Harvard Law School student, Pamela Minzner moved to New Mexico in 1971, joining the firm of Cotter, Hernandez, Atkinson, Campbell and Kelsey. She and her husband had two sons, Max and Carl. She often spoke of the importance of maintaining the delicate balance between career and family, especially for women–one of the motivating factors in her accepting a teaching position at University of New Mexico Law School.
Minzner’s teaching career began when a partner at Minzner’s law firm introduced her to the first woman hired as a tenured faculty member at the University of New Mexico Law School. Minzner joined the faculty in 1972 and credited her position on the Court of Appeals and then on the Supreme Court in part to several women who were her students and graduates of the law school.
When Governor Toney Anaya named Mary Walters as the first woman to serve on the New Mexico Supreme Court, he appointed Minzner to succeed her on the Court of Appeals. At that time there were no other women serving on the Court of Appeals. Judge Minzner served for 10 years on the Court of Appeals and was named that Court’s first female Chief Judge.
In 1994, when Justice Seth Montgomery retired from the Supreme Court, no female justices had served since Justice Walters, who retired in 1989. Governor Bruce King appointed Minzner to the opening. In 1999, she became the first woman elected by her colleagues to the position of Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court. She served in this position until January, 2001. Minzner was the senior justice on the New Mexico Supreme Court until her death in 2007.
Justice Minzner chaired the State Bar’s Commission on Professionalism established in 2000 and received the prestigious professionalism award from the State Bar of New Mexico.
While she was known for her keen and piercing intellect, she was most widely praised for her kindness. She was known for sending warm thank you notes to colleagues, attorneys, and friends, at times thanking others for their thank you notes. She wielded her intellect with great humility, never belittling attorneys appearing before her, and always encouraging others to follow their goals. As Fred Hart, Dean of UNM Law School during Minzner’s term there stated: “She always made you think you knew more than she did, which wasn’t true; she always made you think you were more than she was.”
Justice Minzner’s colleagues remember her as a tireless jurist, a trailblazer for other women, and a UNM professor dedicated to and admired by her students. She was said to have influenced more young female lawyers than any other individual in the state.
Hispanic Women’s Council Archives for Book Project, Mujeres Valerosas. 2005.
"Bright Star on the Bench." Albuquerque Journal.
Hope, Judith Richards. Pinstripes and Pearls: The Women of the Harvard Law Class of ’64 Who Forged an Old Girl Network and Paved the Way for Future Generations. Scribner, 2003.
The President and Fellows of Harvard College and The Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, vol. 28, Spring 2005.
Sage Monthly Magazine for Women, January, 2005
“First Female Chief Justice Shaped Lives." Albuquerque Journal, September 1, 2007.
“With Love, From the State Bar of New Mexico. A Tribute to Former Chief Justice Pamela B. Minzner.” September, 2007.