Iowa loses an extraordinary judge


One of my friends who's a former Estherville resident warned me that small towns can be vicious.

"People say unpleasant things to you for absolutely no reason, and I?just want to tell you that's the way it is,"?he told me.

This comes as no surprise to me.

It's only a few people. Most of the time I?receive either constructive criticism or high praise for what I?do here at the newspaper, and I suppose as a human being.

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady died unexpectedly this week at age 66 of a heart attack.

I didn't get to meet Justice Cady, but I?was impressed by how he ran the Iowa Supreme Court proceedings when I?attended, and I will miss seeing his signature on the court announcements that come through my email from the court's communications bureau.

A huge crowd turned out for his memorial Wednesday, a testement to the many lives his career has touched.

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hect said, "Iowa has lost an extrordinarey judget and statemenan. You know htat well. I can tell you this:?so has the country."?

Cady was the chief of Chief Justices as he became president of hte National Conference of Chief Justices this past July.

The appointee of Terry Branstand may be best known for authoring the decision which legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa. How was he chosen to write the opinion??

According to Marsha Ternus, the court's then-chief justice, he got the assignment by drawing a slip of paper from the bag.

He didn't seek it. He may not have wanted it. But it has been said to be a principled decision founded on legal principles long applied by courts in Iowa.

And there were no dissenters from the other judges on the panel.

Ternus said at the funeral, "I?want you to know that Mark cared about every decision he made, every opinion he wrote, and every party who brought their dispute to the court for resolution."?

His services ended with a choir (the Des Moines Gay Men's Chorus)?leading the assembled crowd in singing, I"Let There be Peace on Earth."?

What a fitting end to a life of service. Does this seem like something we could use more of, a need that has grown since that song was penned many years ago??

Cady had ties to this area, growing up in Fort Dodge and as an adjunct professor at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake.

He'd served in appellate court in Iowa for 25 years. Branstad appointed him to the Iowa Court of Appeals in 1994 and to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1998. He kept his seat in the 2017 retention elections. He likely intended to serve additional years, but he was struck down by that heart attack while out walking his dog Friday.

Governor Reynolds ordered flags flown at half-staff Saturday through today, the date of his public celebration of life.

Some of his decisions rankled the socially conservative, but he leaves evidence that he stuck to the state and , when applicable, national Constitution for each one.

Governor Reynolds said, "He should be remembered as someone who loved the law, the judiciary and the state."?

Former Governor Branstad did not always get the decisions he wanted from?Cady. He said from China, "He was a dedicated jurist who was liked and respected for his strong work ethic and fairness."?

Cady wrote of the Varnum case, which legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa, that it was the court's responsibility "to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined, or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time."?

The ruling had its consequences. The public ousted nearly half the court in retention elections.

Rather than shrink from the controversy, he took the court on the road to meet with Iowans. He met with clerks of court and county attorneys, court officers, newspaper editorial boards and bar associations. A court that had never left chambers to decide cases began traveling, livestreaming oral arguments, and hosting open houses even after some of the toughest cases argued in school auditoriums, community rooms and gymnasiums around the state.

Under Cady, Iowa grew in electronic filing of court documents, specialty courts for drug offenders, veterans and business issues, and advocacy for social justice.

Cady's other recent rulings included siding with the majority in a 4-3 ruling in 2016 that barred sentences of life without paroles for teenagers under 18, finding it cruel and unusual punishment.

Cady is survived by his wife, Becky, two children and four grandchildren.


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