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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Remembering Justice Mary Ann McMorrow

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2013-02-25

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    DURBIN. Mr. President today I wish to pay tribute to Justice Mary Ann McMorrow, a devoted public servant and a pioneer of the Illinois legal community who passed away last weekend at the age of 83.

    Justice McMorrow was a native Chicagoan, attending Immaculata High School and Rosary College which is now Dominican University. She went on to attend the Loyola University School of Law, where she was elected class president and served as associate editor of the Law Review. She graduated in 1953 as the only woman in her class. Yet as Justice McMorrow set off on her legal career, she refused to let glass ceilings stop her from reaching the greatest heights.

    Justice McMorrow embarked on a public service career that would span decades and culminate in her service as the first woman on the Illinois Supreme Court and its first female chief justice. Her public sector career began with a post as an assistant State's attorney in Cook County, where she became the first woman in Cook County to prosecute major felonies. On one occasion she was told by a supervisor in the State's attorney's office that she would not be presenting an oral argument before the Illinois Supreme Court because women had not done that before. Well, before long Justice McMorrow would preside over the very same arguments from which she was once excluded.

    In 1976, Justice McMorrow was elected as a judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, and she joined the Illinois Appellate Court in 1985. She was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court in 1992 and became the chief justice of that court in 2002. The importance of this achievement cannot be overstated. As Justice McMorrow said upon becoming chief justice, ``When I went to law school, women couldn't even dream of such a thing. I hope this would forever indicate that there's nothing that limits women in any job or any profession.'' Justice McMorrow served as chief justice until her retirement in 2006, and overall she wrote 225 majority opinions during her Supreme Court tenure.

    Justice McMorrow was an active member of her church, St. Mary of the Woods, and along with her late husband Emmett she was committed to her community and to various charities. Among the many accolades Justice McMorrow received during her career were the Medal of Excellence award from the Loyola University School of Law Alumni Association, the Chicago Bar Association's Justice John Paul Stevens Award, the American Bar Association's Margaret A. Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, and the Myra Bradwell Woman of Achievement Award, the highest award given by the Women's Bar Association of Illinois. In addition to these honors, she also received four honorary degrees and numerous other awards. When asked about her illustrious career, Justice McMorrow responded, ``I just simply tried to do my best in every task that was presented to me.'' Justice McMorrow was truly a model of what hard work and humility can accomplish. During a time when women were not accepted as equals in the legal profession she proved herself superior. When young women in classrooms across Illinois are asked what they want to be when they grow up, they can confidently respond that they will be judges and have Justice McMorrow as a beacon to strive towards. Today as we mourn her passing we also celebrate her achievements and the legacy of opportunity she has created for countless young women in our State.

    Loretta and I send our condolences to Justice McMorrow's daughter Mary Ann, her sister Frances, and her other family and friends across Illinois and the Nation.


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