Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady Dies

Nov 16, 2019

Advocates and politicians of all stripes are lamenting the death of Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady. He died Friday night of a heart attack at the age of 66, according to a statement from the judicial branch.

“The state lost a great man, husband, father, grandfather and jurist,” Cady’s family wrote in a statement.

Cady was born in Rapid City, S.D., earned a law degree from Drake University, and practiced law in Fort Dodge.  He served on the Iowa Supreme Court for more than two decades, having been appointed to the state’s highest court by former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in 1998. The Court elected him chief justice in 2011.

He may be best known for writing the unanimous opinion that made Iowa the third state to allow same-sex marriage in 2009, six years before the U.S. Supreme Court did the same for the whole country.

One Iowa Executive Director Courtney Reyes said Cady’s decision impacted LGBTQ people nationwide.

“Cady’s legacy of protecting the rights of Iowans lives on, and we in the LGBTQ community are particularly grateful for his service on the Iowa Supreme Court,” Reyes wrote in a statement.

Cady remained on the Iowa Supreme Court after voters ousted three other justices in 2010 for their roles in establishing marriage equality.

Former governor and now U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad wrote in a statement he was saddened to hear of Cady’s death.

“He was a dedicated jurist who was liked and respected for his strong work ethic and fairness,” Branstad said. “My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Becky, his family and friends.”

Cady has two children and four grandchildren, according to the judicial branch.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered all flags to be lowered to half-staff on Saturday in honor of Cady.

The American flag flies at half-staff Saturday outside the Iowa Judicial Branch Building. Gov. Reynolds has ordered all flags in Iowa flown at half staff until sunset of the day of Chief Justice Cady's memorial service.
Credit Michael Leland / IPR

“He devoted his entire professional career to serving the people of Iowa,” Reynolds wrote in a statement. “He loved the law, the judiciary, and the state we call home. He leaves behind a legacy of service and dedication that we should never forget.”

Cady also known for his work on juvenile justice issues and a 2018 opinion establishing a fundamental right to abortion in Iowa.

Some of his decisions upset conservative leaders in the state, and Republican lawmakers this year shortened the term of the chief justice, bumping up the date that the Court would have a chance to elect a new chief.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, said Cady’s death is a terrible loss for the state.

“He provided thoughtful leadership for the judiciary and worked hard to better serve Iowans by expanding Iowa’s specialty courts, upgrading technology and improving access to justice,” Miller wrote in a statement. “He was compassionate, courageous and committed to doing right for the state. His legacy is larger than any particular ruling.”

At the time of his death, Cady was also president of the national Conference of Chief Justices.