March/April 2007 issue

In Memoriam: Judge Donald P. Lay


Judge Donald P. Lay of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit died on Sunday, April 29th, in North Oaks, Minnesota, after a prolonged illness. He was 80 years old.

Donald Pomery Lay was born in Princeton, Ill., on Aug. 24, 1926. He had intended to serve in the military but as a student at the U.S. Naval Academy, he suffered a back injury while playing for the football team. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 1949 and received his law degree there in 1951.

He then went to work as an associate at Kennedy, Holland, DeLacy, & Svoboda in Omaha, Nebraska. In 1953 he relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as an associate with Quarles, Spence & Quarles. In 1954 he returned to Omaha as a partner with Eisenstatt, Lay, Higgins & Miller.

In 1966 he was appointed as a Circuit Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. He was the second youngest judge ever appointed to a federal court of appeals. (William Howard Taft was the youngest.) From 1979 to 1992 he served as Chief Judge for the Circuit.

During his time on the bench he wrote more than 2,000 opinions. In Morrissey v. Brewer, his dissent reasoned that the rights of two prisoners had indeed been violated when the Iowa State Parole Board revoked their parole without hearings, 443 F.2d 942 (8th Cir. 1971). The U.S. Supreme Court later agreed.

In Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., 130 F.3d 1287 (8th Cir. 1997), a sex discrimination case that was the basis for the 2005 film North Country, he reasoned that “although money damages cannot make these women whole or even begin to repair the injury done, it can serve to set a precedent that in the environment of the working place such hostility will not be tolerated.”

He upheld the treaty rights of an Indian tribe to hunt and fish in Minnesota, and the U.S. Supreme Court later affirmed. Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians v. Minnesota 124 F.3d 904 (8th Cir. 1997).

Throughout his legal career, Judge Lay also served as a part-time instructor at Omaha University, William Mitchell, and University of Minnesota.

Judge Lay is survived by his wife, Miriam, and their five daughters, Catherine Lay, Betsy Lay, Susan Lay, Cindy Elston and Debbie Ford.