SPRINGFIELD -- Cynthia Bard Rutan, whose name is permanently attached to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that banned political patronage in most public employee personnel decisions, died Thursday. She was 62.

SPRINGFIELD -- Cynthia Bard Rutan, whose name is permanently attached to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that banned political patronage in most public employee personnel decisions, died Thursday. She was 62.


The Supreme Court decision, delivered on June 21, 1990, established that political affiliation could not be used to hire, promote, transfer or demote most public employees.


Funeral services will be held today in Morrisonville for Rutan, who later used her maiden name, Bard.


Rutan, a Springfield resident who worked for the state Department of Rehabilitation Services, sued the Republican Party of Illinois after she was told she had been denied promotions because she didn’t work to support Republican candidates for office.


“She was tremendously bright, very organized and was just astounded when they told her, ‘We wanted you, but they checked your voting records,’” said Mary Lee Leahy, the Springfield attorney who represented Rutan and four other public employees, all from different parts of the state, in the suit.


“They were all wonderful clients,” Leahy said. “I just kept them copied on everything, and they were fine with that.”


Leahy and Rutan kept in touch after the Supreme Court decision.


“She always came to our office Christmas party, and she came to my 70th birthday party,” Leahy said.


After Rutan was told why she wasn’t being promoted, Rutan went to Republican headquarters and “they gave her the form,” Leahy said. “The one that asked if she was willing to contribute to the party, if she was willing to work for candidates and how she had voted in primaries.”


The Rutan suit, as it was called, was dismissed in U.S. District Court in Springfield, but Leahy took it to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel ruled in favor of two of the workers who weren’t recalled from layoffs. The full 7th Circuit affirmed the opinion of the three-judge panel.


That left only the U.S. Supreme Court, which didn’t have to hear the case, but agreed to do so.


“They held (on a 5-4 vote) that all five had cause for action,” Leahy said. Only policy-making and confidential positions were exempt from the ban on patronage hiring, the court ruled.


As a result of the decision — which applied to public employees across the country — then-Gov. Jim Edgar hired a consulting firm to help determine what positions were exempt and how to hire merit employees, Leahy said.


In the end, about 63,000 employees statewide were found to be covered by the ruling, while 3,000 were exempt.


“I remember they only gave us something like four tickets for people to watch the oral arguments before the Supreme Court,” Leahy said. “Cynthia wanted to bring her two sons, who were in high school, and she wrote the clerk of the court, who was so impressed she wanted to bring them that she got great seats.”


Rutan was employed for 31½ years by the Social Security Disability program, retiring in December 2005, according to her obituary.


Her two sons, Kurt and Scott, still live in Springfield. She loved to travel and loved animals, her obituary said.


She donated money in memory of her former husband, Charles Rutan, to build an orphanage for 50 children in Imphal, India.


“I think she was very proud she’d been part of a significant Supreme Court decision,” Leahy said. “She was just a wonderful person.”


 


Chris Dettro can be reached at (217) 788-1510.