Executive Summary

The Hon. John G. Heyburn II Initiative for Judicial Excellence (“Heyburn Initiative”) is a non-partisan institution devoted to the preservation and study of US Judicial history with a particular focus on Kentuckians’ contributions to American legal discourse.

Judge Heyburn wrote that “opinions, while mandates, are part of a continuing conversation.” In partnership with the University of Kentucky College of Law (“UK Law”), the Heyburn Initiative will enable the continuation of these legal conversations important to our nation.

  1. Ongoing Conferences and Speakers - Judicial, Congressional, Executive branch leaders and scholars
  2. Create history of all Kentuckians in the Third Branch - Preserve the context around key opinions and make this available to the public
    - Archives of the professional files of Federal Judges and Supreme Court Justices, including draft opinions, correspondence and notes
    - Oral histories - contextualize judges, significant decisions, and relationship of the Three Branches of government
  3. Student awards for achievement in the study of the Federal Judiciary and Public Service
  4. Dedicated physical space at UK College of Law devoted to study of the Judiciary

The Heyburn Initiative is seeking to raise $6 million in order to achieve its goals

The Four Pillars of the Heyburn Initiative


In partnership with UK and the Community Foundation of Louisville, the Heyburn Initiative will work with organizations such as the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Federal Judicial Center to enable public study of and for the Federal Judiciary through four key pillars of activities.

  1. Ongoing conferences and speaker events for Judges, law students and the public at UK
    - First speaker already committed for expected early 2017 launch of the Heyburn Initiative
    - All speaker events accessible to the public and digitally archived
  2. Archives of Judges’ original and digitized files plus oral histories (interview, recording and transcription) around seminal decisions
    - Available to the public at no cost with original documents preserved and accessible at UK Law

    - Initial funding will complete 30 oral histories and digitize Judge Heyburn’s documents as well as those of at least 10 other District, Circuit and Supreme Court Judges/Justices
    - Proceeds from endowment would enable archival of 2-3 additional Judges’ files and 10 additional oral histories per year
  3. Ongoing awards and recognition for law students advancing the study of the Federal Judiciary, and engaging in Public Service
  4. Dedicated area for receptions, events and archived documents
    - Reading room atmosphere for study of preserved documents and use by visiting Judges

    - Showcase for Judicial portraits, memorabilia and display of student award recipients

Judge John G. Heyburn II

  • Appointed to United States District Court in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush at the recommendation of Senator Mitch McConnell
  • Chief Judge of the Western District of Kentucky from 2001 to 2008
  • Appointed to Budget Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States by Chief Justice Rehnquist in 1994; served as Chair from 1997 to 2004
  • Appointed Chair of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation by Chief Justice Roberts in 2007

Judge Heyburn’s Legacy
Judge Heyburn presided over 7,645 cases in his 23 years on the bench including some of the most controversial that faced the courts: recognition of same sex marriages, restrictions on access to abortion, racial desegregation of our schools, and the scope of First Amendment’s guarantees. His opinions were known for his indefatigable sense of fairness, respect for litigants, and commitment to clear, logical, and thoughtful rulings. For example, in holding that Kentucky had intentionally discriminated against same-sex couples he took the unusual step of addressing those with deeply held religious beliefs who might have difficulty with his opinion while yet firmly explaining no tradition or firmly held belief can be the rationale to deny equal protection to another.  Many credited his opinion for returning dignity to Americans who had felt marginalized by their country without demonizing those with strongly held religious beliefs. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on his case (consolidated with three others) the day before his death and upheld his opinion in the summer of 2015.


If you have questions about the endowment or how to make a gift, please contact Heather Cash, the Community Foundation of Louisville's Director of Gift Planning at 502.585.4649 or heatherc@cflouisville.org.  If you have questions about oral histories and archives, please contact Deirdre Scaggs, the University of Kentucky Libraries' Associate Dean, at 859.257.3653 or deirdre@uky.edu.

The Community Foundation of Louisville provides operational management of this endowment fund.  This Fund will provide grants to UK for Heyburn Initiative programs in perpetuity at direction of HC BA.  You may make a secure credit card donation to support The John G. Heyburn II Initiative for Excellence in the Federal Judiciary Fund below. All contributions represent an irrevocable contribution to the Community Foundation of Louisville and are not refundable.

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Kate Biagi-Rickert
Director of Stewardship
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For questions about grant distributions from your fund, contact:

Michael Pfaff
Grants Associate

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For questions about gifts to your fund, contact:

Elise Waddell
Development & Stewardship Senior Associate

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325 W. Main Street, Suite 1110 / Louisville, KY 40202 / 502.585.4649