The John G. Heyburn II Initiative for Excellence in the Federal Judiciary


Judge Heyburn

  • Appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the United States District Court of Western Kentucky in 1992 at the recommendation of Senator Mitch McConnell and the support of Senator Wendell Ford.
  • Chaired the Budget Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States from 1997 to 2004.
  • Chief Judge of the Western District Court from 2001 to 2008.
  • Chaired the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation from 2007 to 2014.

As District Court Judge on the Western District Court of Kentucky from 1992 to 2015, Judge John G. Heyburn II presided over 7,645 cases. These cases included thorny questions of constitutional law and played a role in shaping Kentucky culture in particular and federal law in general: recognition of same sex marriages, restrictions on access to abortion, racial desegregation of our schools, and the scope of First Amendment’s guarantees. His opinions conveyed a sense of fairness, respect for litigants, and commitment to clear, logical, and thoughtful rulings. For example, in his opinion in Bourke v. Beshear, holding that Kentucky had intentionally discriminated against same-sex couples, Judge Heyburn took the unusual step of addressing those who may disagree with his opinion on religious grounds. Paying careful attention to their arguments, he nonetheless explained that no tradition or firmly held belief could be the rationale to deny equal protection to another. Many praised his opinion for respecting historically marginalized Americans without demonizing those with strongly held religious beliefs. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Obergefell v. Hodges, which consolidated his case with five others, the day before his death and upheld his opinion in the summer of 2015.


HOURS for June 27, 2022