Howard C. Ryan

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Howard C. Ryan (born June 17, 1916 in Tonica, Illinois - died December 10, 2008 in Peru, Illinois) was an elected judge of the Supreme Court of Illinois from 1970 to 1990, and the Chief Justice of the court in 1982–1985.[1]

A native of Tonica, Howard C. Ryan grew up on a farm, and was educated at Tonica Schools, LaSalle-Peru-Oglesby Junior College, the University of Illinois and the University of Illinois College of Law. He was admitted to the practice of law on April 14, 1942. On May 5, 1943 Ryan enlisted to the U.S. Army Air Corps, 2nd Ferry Division Air Transport Command and served as a radio operator for 43 months.[1]

After the war Ryan practiced law in Decatur, Illinois for one and a half years and later returned to LaSalle County, residing in Tonica and moving his practice to Peru. He was appointed a part-time assistant LaSalle County state's attorney in 1952 and was elected county judge in 1954. In 1957 he was elected circuit judge of the 13th Judicial Circuit, serving as chief judge from 1964-1968. He was elected to the 21-county 3rd District Appellate Court in 1968 and from that district was elected to the Supreme Court of Illinois in 1970. He served as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois from January 1982 to January 1985. Ryan retired in 1990 after serving 36 years as a judge, including 20 years on the Illinois Supreme Court. After retiring, he served three years of counsel to the Chicago firm Peterson and Ross.[1]

Ryan issued a 1978 ruling in which he critiqued Illinois' death penalty and anticipated problems cited years later when Governor George H. Ryan ordered a sweeping review of capital punishment. In the beginning of his Supreme Court tenure (Carey v. Cousins, 1977) Ryan opposed the death penalty but later (People vs. Lewis, 1981) voted in favor of it.[2] In a 1991 interview to the Chicago Tribune Ryan said that he came to have fewer doubts about capital punishment and accepted it as the law of the land.[1]

Ryan's wife since 1943, Helen (née Cizek), died in 2002.[1] He is the father of H. Chris Ryan, Jr., Chief Judge of the 13th Judicial Circuit of Illinois. Ryan was a member of the LaSalle County, Illinois State and American Bar Associations, the American Judicature Society, Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity, the Odd Fellows and the Elks, the Tonica United Methodist Church as well as a 33rd degree Mason.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e Jensen, Trevor. "Howard C. Ryan: Longtime state Supreme Court justice". Chicago Tribune, December 17, 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  2. ^ "Legal glossary". Northwestern University. 
  3. ^ "Howard C. Ryan, former Supreme Court judge". Supreme Court of Illinois, 2008. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court
Succeeded by
James D. Heiple