Nathan S. Heffernan (1920-2007)
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice
Chief Justice (1983-1995)
Nathan Stewart Heffernan was born August 6, 1920, in Frederic, Wisconsin. He attended school in Sheboygan and 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 University of Wisconsin Law School in 1948.
From 1948 to 1959, Heffernan was in private law practice in Sheboygan at the firm of Buchen & Heffernan. He served as assistant district attorney in Sheboygan County from 1951 to 1953 and city attorney of Sheboygan from 1953 to 1959. In 1959, Heffernan became deputy attorney general of Wisconsin and remained in that capacity until 1962 when he was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin. In 1964, Governor John W. Reynolds appointed Heffernan, age 43, to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In 1983, he became chief justice.
Heffernan's work on the bench distinguished him as a top scholar with eclectic opinions and a "puckish" sense of humor. He was well-known for his commitment to civil liberties and women's rights and was recognized for his involvement in the court reorganization of 1978, which created a Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Heffernan taught summer courses on appellate administration and opinion writing at New York University Law School and was an adjunct professor of appellate practice and procedure at the University of Wisconsin Law School for 15 years.
Heffernan retired in 1995. His 31 years on the Supreme Court mad him the third longest-serving judge in Wisconsin history. He told The Milwaukee Journal, "For me, it has been the fulfillment of my aspirations as a lawyer and a continuing opportunity to render worthwhile public service... [b]ut it's time to step down and enjoy life."
Heffernan and his wife Dorothy Hillemann had three children: Katie, Michael and Thomas. He died on April 13, 2007.