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Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law NewsletterThe newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law

November 2002, vol. 13, no. 2

Justice Mary Ann G. McMorrow becomes the first female Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court

On September 5, 2002, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Ann G. McMorrow became the first woman in more than 180 years to be elected Chief Justice of this state's highest tribunal. Chief Justice McMorrow succeeds former Chief Justice Moses W. Harrison, who retired from the bench after a distinguished judicial career spanning almost three decades.

Her ascension to the position of the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court is only the latest of historic "firsts" for Justice McMorrow, who has been a trailblazer and role model for women in the legal profession. Chief Justice McMorrow was the only woman in her graduating class at Loyola University School of Law in 1953, where she was elected class president and associate editor of the law review. After completing law school, Chief Justice McMorrow joined the law firm of Riordan and Linklater, engaging in the general practice of law. Thereafter, she was appointed an Assistant State's Attorney of Cook County, and went on to become the first woman to prosecute major criminal cases in that office. Chief Justice McMorrow was elected to the circuit court of Cook County in 1976, and, in 1985, the Illinois Supreme Court assigned her to the Illinois Appellate Court. She was elected a Justice of the Appellate Court of Illinois in 1986. Chief Justice McMorrow was the second woman in Illinois history to serve on the appellate court, and she was the first woman to be elected Chairperson of the Executive Committee of the Illinois Appellate Court. In 1992, Chief Justice McMorrow became the first woman elected to the Illinois Supreme Court in the court's 173-year history.

During her decade on the Illinois Supreme Court, Chief Justice McMorrow has authored nearly 200 opinions. Perhaps one of Justice McMorrow's most widely known opinions is Best v. Taylor Machine Works, 179 Ill. 2d 367 (1997), in which the court overturned the Civil Justice Reform Amendments of 1995, more commonly known as "tort reform." The opinion, which was over 100 pages in length and which has been repeatedly described by legal commentators as very thorough and scholarly, found that various provisions of the tort reform legislation violated the prohibition against special legislation and the doctrine of separation of powers found in the Illinois Constitution.

Throughout her career, Chief Justice McMorrow has been the recipient of numerous distinguished awards and honors. These include Loyola University Law School's 1991 "Medal of Excellence," the Catholic Lawyers' Guild "1993 Lawyer of the Year," and the prestigious Fellows of the Illinois Bar Foundation's award in 1996 for Distinguished Service to Law and Society. Also in 1996, Crain's Chicago Business named Chief Justice McMorrow one of "Chicago's 100 Most Influential Women." In 1998, the Women's Bar Association of Illinois granted Chief Justice McMorrow its highest honor, the "Myra Bradwell Woman of Achievement Award," and Phi Alpha Delta, the largest law fraternity in the world, also conferred on her its highest award, the Barbara Jordan Outstanding Public Service Award. In 2000, Chief Justice McMorrow was the recipient of the John Marshall Law School "Freedom Award," and in 2001 she received the "Arabella Babb Mansfield Award" from the National Association of Women Lawyers. Chief Justice McMorrow has most recently been honored with the "United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens Award" by the Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Foundation, recognizing her as one who best exemplifies Justice Stevens' commitment to public service and integrity while practicing law. In addition, Chief Justice McMorrow has been awarded four honorary doctorate degrees.

Chief Justice McMorrow has been, and continues to be, involved in area bar associations. She is a past president of the Women's Bar Association of Illinois and is a current member of the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association, most recently serving on the ISBA's Special Committee on the Future of the Courts Conference.

In news reports following her unanimous selection as the next Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, Chief Justice McMorrow stated that "[W]hen 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." Indeed, throughout her career, Chief Justice McMorrow has achieved unprecedented accomplishments which have paved the way for other women to realize their dreams. In every respect, Chief Justice McMorrow has served as an exemplary role model for all Illinois attorneys, setting the highest standards of professionalism and integrity. It is therefore fitting that, when she was sworn in as the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, she was the first woman in the history of the State of Illinois to head any branch of state government.


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