John G. Heyburn II, a federal judge who in recent years made national headlines by striking down Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban, died Wednesday, according to The Courier-Journal.
He was 66.
Heyburn was a U.S. district judge for the Western Kentucky District, a post he’d held since 1992.
Last year, he wrote two orders striking down Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban on the ground that the law violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The orders were overturned by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals; the Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday on those cases and other same-sex marriage suits from three other states.
Same-sex marriage wasn’t Heyburn’s first high-profile decision. For example, as the Courier-Journal notes:
In 2000, he dissolved a 25-year-old desegregation decree in Jefferson County Public Schools, ending racial quotas that had prevented some black students from attending Central High School.
But four years later, he ruled that the district still had a compelling interest in maintaining racially integrated schools, upholding its policy of allowing no school to be more than 85 percent white or 50 percent black.
That decision was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007.
Heyburn was appointed to the federal judgeship by President George H.W. Bush on the recommendation of Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is now the Senate majority leader.
Heyburn took senior judge status last year, which means he’d basically do volunteer work on behalf on the courts. A news release announcing that decision said he’d undergone successful treatment for metastatic rectal cancer.