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Justice Mary Ann McMorrow dies at 83; first woman to lead Illinois’ Supreme Court

Justice Mary Ann McMorrow | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times Library

Justice Mary Ann McMorrow | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times Library

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Updated: March 26, 2013 9:45AM



Mary Ann G. McMorrow, the first woman to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court and its first female chief justice, died Saturday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after a short illness.

Justice McMorrow was a pioneer as a woman in the law profession during a career that spanned more than half a century. She was 83.

“Not only was she my personal mentor and dearest friend, but she also was a mentor and friend to many in her lifetime — and especially women in the law,” said Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke, whom Justice McMorrow nominated to replace her on the state’s highest court when she retired in 2006.

Justice McMorrow served as chief justice from September 2002 to September 2005.

When she was sworn in as chief justice, she said: “You will notice after I take off my robe that I am the only one of the 114 chief justices who preceded me that wears a skirt.”

“We will fondly remember Justice McMorrow and always cherish the privilege of having worked with her,” Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride said in a statement. “Being the first woman on the court and to serve as chief justice, she was an inspiration to all women in the law in Illinois. But through her courage, perseverance, wisdom and character, she was a role model for all lawyers, regardless of gender.”

Justice McMorrow’s legal career began when she was the lone woman in her graduating class at the School of Law at Loyola University in 1953. She became the first woman to try felony cases as an assistant Cook County state’s attorney and continued her “first woman” status when her colleagues on the Supreme Court chose her as chief justice. Throughout her career, Justice McMorrow was a mentor to other women in the law.

As an assistant state’s attorney, she met her husband, Emmett, who was a police officer. They were married in 1962 and were together for 24 years, until he died of cancer.

When their daughter, Mary Ann, was born, she left the state’s attorney’s office and later started a law practice.

She was elected to the Circuit Court in 1976. In 1985, she went on to serve in the Appellate Court, where she was the first woman to serve as chair of the Executive Committee. She was elected to the Supreme Court in 1992 and served on the court until she retired on July 5, 2006.

Though she had prosecuted serious felony cases, she wrote an opinion for the court that overturned the conviction and death penalty for a defendant accused of killing a police officer and cited an abuse by prosecutors in using an inflammatory closing argument.

One of her noteworthy dissents involved the question of holding parents and other social hosts liable for injury and death resulting from allowing minors to drink to intoxication. The majority of the court found no liability, and Justice McMorrow wrote that the result was “an injustice and an outrage.”

On the eve of her retirement, Justice McMorrow told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed that she never set out to be a trailblazer.

“I never thought of myself as doing anything special,” she said. “I didn’t set out to be a first at anything; that wasn’t my goal. Everything just fell into place. I didn’t believe in being confrontational with men. I knew where I was coming from. I got much further by being persuasive.”

As she prepared to retire in 2006, she said in a Chicago Sun-Times interview: “I don’t want to read briefs for the rest of my life. I want to travel.”

When she retired, she noted that she had served at the trial, Appellate and Supreme Court levels for about 30 years.

“And, oh, what grand and glorious years they were!” she said.

Justice McMorrow is survived by her daughter, Mary Ann.

Funeral arrangements are pending.



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