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Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Ann McMorrow Dies

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Mary Ann McMorrow

Justice Mary Ann McMorrow, right, smiles as she is congratulated by Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland, following McMorrow being sworn-in as the first woman to become Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court in ceremonies held in Springfield, Ill., Monday, Sept. 9, 2002. McMorrow replaces Justice Moses Harrison II who recently retired. (Randy Squires/AP)

The first woman to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court has died. Mary Ann McMorrow was 83. 

McMorrow's election to the Illinois Supreme Court in 1992 was just one of a series of achievements in a career that spanned more than 50 years.

She was the only woman in her law school class, in the early 1950s. After that, she was the first woman to prosecute felonies in Cook County.

One of her colleges back then was future governor Jim Thompson, who recalled their work together in an interview in 2006, when McMorrow retired from the Supreme Court.

"She was one of the few women prosecutors," Thompson said. "She was smart, she was tough, but she always treated everybody with dignity and respect, even as she did on the Supreme Court."

On the high court, McMorrow wrote a significant opinion striking down a law that capped how much money plaintiffs can collect in lawsuits. She served as chief justice from 2002 to 2005.

"Being the first woman on the Court and to serve as Chief Justice, she was an inspiration to all women in the law in Illinois," said Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride in a statement. "But through her courage, perseverance, wisdom, and character, she was a role model for all lawyers, regardless of gender. Her legacy looms large over the Illinois legal system, evidenced by the fact we are the first court to include three women."

Though McMorrow was the high court's lone woman for a decade, she left the door wide open behind her: today on the Illinois Supreme Court, three of the seven justices are women.

When she retired in 2006, McMorrow told The Associated Press she never focused on being a trailblazer. She said she was "just trying to do the best I could."

According to a statement from the Illinois Supreme Court, she died Saturday after a brief illness. She is survived by her daughter and her sister.

Categories: Government, History, Law