William H. Dieterich (1897-1964)
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice (1959-1964)
"Justice Dieterich could truly be called the People's Lawyer. He was the most compassionate of men and although he represented large corporations he was never happier than when he represented the most indigent of clients for a good cause...Throughout his judicial career, Justice Dieterich never lost sight of his original promise to himself that he would be the People's Lawyer." - Robert W. Schroeder, Dieterich's memorial service (1965)
William Herbert Dieterich was born December 18, 1897, on his family's farm in Milwaukee County and was educated in the Milwaukee public schools. When the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, he immediately enlisted in the Wisconsin National Guard. He was one of the original founders of the American Legion.
When Dieterich returned from war, he attended the universities of Wisconsin and Montana and later earned a law degree from Marquette University Law School. He was admitted to the Wisconsin Bar in 1923.
Dieterich was a trial attorney for 36 years in Milwaukee and Washington Counties. He served the state and his community as special assistant to the attorney general of Wisconsin, justice of the peace in Washington County, a member of the Board of Governors of the State Bar Foundation and director of the local school board.
In April 1958, Dieterich defeated Justice Emmert "Bill" Wingert in an election for justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Dieterich had been on the ballot in Wisconsin several times before his victory to the bench. He was unsuccessful in his earlier bids for attorney general and for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
While on the Supreme Court, Dieterich dissented on a high-profile case, State v. Sanapaw (1963). He wrote that notwithstanding the federal Termination Act of 1961, the Menominee Indians kept their rights to hunt and fish on tribal lands free from state game laws. In a different case, Menonminee Tribe v. United States (1968), the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with State v. Sanapaw and reached the same conclusion as Dieterich's dissent.
Before July 1961, there was no provision for law clerks at the Supreme Court. Dieterich felt there was a need and almost single-handedly persuaded the Wisconsin Legislature to authorize the employment of law clerks.
Shortly after his elections to the Supreme Court, Dieterich had "Supreme Court Justice" engraved on his headstone, to the dismay of his superstitious relatives. The engraving was to ensure that his career on the bench would be known to his descendants. Dieterich died on July 23, 1964. He and his wife Kathryn Block had one son, William H. Dieterich III.