DES MOINES, Iowa —Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady died suddenly of a heart attack Friday. He was 66.
Cady had served on the Iowa Supreme Court for 21 years and had been chief justice since 2011. Prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court, Cady had been a judge on the Iowa Court of Appeals for four years, two of them as chief judge, and before that a trial judge in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
“I am heartbroken to learn of the passing of Chief Justice Mark Cady,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement released Saturday. “He devoted his entire professional career to serving the people of Iowa,” said Reynolds. “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.”
Reynolds’ predecessor, former Gov. Terry Branstad, now U.S. ambassador to China, appointed Cady to all of his judgeships.
“As governor, I was proud to have appointed him to the district court, court of appeals and the Iowa Supreme Court,” Branstad said in a statement Saturday. “He was a dedicated jurist who was liked and respected for his strong work ethic and fairness.”
Cady’s death was announced Friday night in a statement released by the court, which said Cady was “a wonderful individual and exceptional judge, respected and beloved by his fellow jurists. His passing is a great loss to the court and the state he so loyally served.”
Cady, a native of Rapid City, South Dakota, graduated with both undergraduate and law degrees from Drake University in Des Moines. He was a student of Iowa constitutional history, frequently speaking and writing about individual liberties protected by the state’s constitution.
He was named president of the Conference of Chief Justices and chair of the National Center for State Courts board of directors earlier this year.
In addition to his role as leader of the seven-member Iowa Supreme Court, Cady is best known for the 2009 decision he wrote for a unanimous court that legalized same-sex marriage based on the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. Iowa’s was one of the first state supreme courts to so hold and six years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage.
Cady’s 69-page ruling reads much like a treatise on constitutional history and interpretation aimed at explaining the decision’s rationale for lay readers who may disagree with the result.
“In the final analysis, we give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage — religious or otherwise — by giving respect to our constitutional principles,” Cady wrote.
“These principles require that the state recognize both opposite-sex and same-sex civil marriage. Religious doctrine and views contrary to this principle of law are unaffected, and people can continue to associate with the religion that best reflects their views.
“A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution.
“The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires.”
Cady is survived by his wife, Becky, two children and four grandchildren.