While tributes to Mary Lee Leahy upon her recent passing appropriately lauded her 1990 U.S. Supreme Court victory over patronage in the Rutan case, her victory in the Illinois Supreme Court seven years later may have an even greater impact.
In Denton v. Civil Service Commission, Leahy convinced the Illinois Supreme Court to rule that the Illinois law giving veterans a hiring preference over nonveterans in the same grade or category was absolute. Prior to the high court's decision, the state applied the veterans' preference only if two job applicants were exactly equal (a rare occurrence). The Supreme Court agreed with Leahy that the law means that if there are 15 applicants with a grade of A, and only one is a veteran, the veteran must be hired.
After winning his case, Leahy told Denton that it would likely have a greater impact than Rutan because whether someone was hired or promoted for political reasons is open to interpretation, whereas whether someone is a veteran is not.
Leahy's work in the Denton case lives on by ensuring that when the brave women and men of our armed forces leave the service, they will be given the absolute preference in hiring by the state that they earned and deserve. Thank you, Mary Lee Leahy, for all you did for the citizens of Illinois and the United States. Your work lives on forever