Vol. 80, No. 5, May 2007
Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan S. Heffernan died on April 13. He was 86.
"Chief Justice Heffernan will be kindly remembered for his lengthy and dedicated service to the state," said Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson. "He authored many opinions and participated in many more that helped shape Wisconsin law. His work will continue to guide development of the law."
Justice Jon P. Wilcox, the only other remaining member of the court to have served alongside him, regarded Heffernan as a mentor. "He was a great leader, and he had a keen, perceptive legal mind," Wilcox said.
Heffernan served on the supreme court from 1964 to 1995 and as chief justice from 1983 to 1995. His 31-year tenure on the court made him the third longest-serving justice in Wisconsin history.
At age 43, Heffernan was appointed to the court by Gov. John W. Reynolds in 1964. Before that, he served two years as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin - a position to which he was appointed by President John F. Kennedy.
From 1959 to 1962, Heffernan served as deputy attorney general for Wisconsin. From 1948 to 1959, Heffernan was in private law practice in Sheboygan at the firm of Buchen & Heffernan. He served as city attorney of Sheboygan from 1953 to 1959 and as assistant district attorney in Sheboygan County from 1951 to 1953.
Nathan Stewart Heffernan was born Aug. 6, 1920, in Frederic, Wis. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1942. During World War II, Heffernan took time out of his studies to serve in the U.S. Navy. He later attended the Harvard Graduate School of Business and graduated Order of the Coif from the U.W. Law School in 1948.
Heffernan retired from the bench in 1995. In an interview with Wisconsin Lawyer™ magazine, he spoke about issues that still are topics of interest today. On access to justice he said: "The Bar has always been good about providing pro bono services, but it's never been enough … if you want to prevent violence, you better have courts available to everybody at a reasonable cost."
Having served 15 years as a prosecutor Heffernan opposed the death penalty, "The death penalty has not proven to be a crime stopper - there seems to be no relation between it and the murder rate - but it's a tremendous burden on the courts," he said.
On the image of lawyers, he said, "One reason for the scrutiny, the mistrust [of lawyers], is because law has always been at the heart of society. This is a society of lawyers, not of the caprices of individuals. And as a result, lawyers have always been extremely important. And that makes us subject to more scrutiny."
Read the complete Wisconsin Lawyer interview at www.wisbar.org/wl/heffernan.