Obituary for Mary Lee Leahy '66, Advocate in Rutan Case

From the Springfield Journal-Register:

Mary Lee Leahy, the Springfield lawyer whose legal advocacy led to a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision banning most political hiring, died Wednesday following a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 72...

Brigid Leahy of Springfield, one of Leahy’s two daughters and a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said it was her father, Andrew, who encouraged her mother to get her law degree.

“He felt, unlike a lot of people at that time, that it was really important for a husband and wife to share their lives fully, and that meant working together,” she said. “And since he was an attorney, he wanted her to be an attorney, too.”

Years later, when Andrew Leahy had already been stricken with cancer, he encouraged his wife to take the case of Cynthia Rutan and other state workers who claimed that their political affiliation had formed a roadblock to advancement in state jobs.

“Mom wasn’t sure she wanted to take on a case that clearly was going to be very long term and very intensive, and my dad said, ‘We have to do this,’” Brigid Leahy said.

Most state positions in Illinois are now officially covered by Rutan protection against political favoritism.

“Even though that was a big and exciting case for her, and she was very proud of it ... she also really had a lot of satisfaction with doing what most lawyers would consider smaller things for people,” from writing wills to facilitating adoptions, Brigid Leahy said of her mother.

Leahy was a graduate of Loyola University in Chicago, got her political science master’s degree as a Fulbright Scholar at University of Manchester in England, and her law degree from the University of Chicago.

Gov. Pat Quinn said the Leahys were “special people.”

“It took a public-spirited lawyer to fight all the way to the highest court on behalf of her clients to do what’s right,” Quinn said of Leahy.

Read the rest of the article here.