LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - Senior U.S. District Court Judge John Heyburn II died Wednesday at his home in Louisville, district court clerk Vanessa Armstrong said in a statement.

Judge Heyburn was 66 years old. He was diagnosed with cancer in late 2011.

President George H.W. Bush appointed Heyburn to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky in 1992.

He served as Chief Judge from 2001 to 2008. Heyburn wrote the opinions that struck down Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage and the state's refusal to honor such marriages from other states. Heyburn ruled that both violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Appeals of those decisions led, in part, to the U.S. Supreme Court arguments Tuesday. 

Heyburn also played a big role in JCPS student assignment, ruling that schools can't use race or gender as the sole factor in determining admittance, but that busing could continue. The case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Colleagues from the federal bench in Louisville praised his common sense and fairness in and out of the courtroom.

"The passing of Judge John Heyburn leaves a void in our Court family that will be impossible to fill," said Chief Judge Joseph H. McKinley, Jr., in a statement,

"John Heyburn and I served together... for over 22 years," said Senior Judge Charles R. Simpson III. "He was both a close colleague, and a dear friend. His passing is a great loss, not only to the Court, but to the legal community and indeed the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

 Heyburn was close to GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell; they were active in Jefferson County and state Republican party politics going back to the early 1970s.

“Known for his searing intellect, fiercely competitive spirit, and quick wit, John Heyburn untangled countless legal knots and delivered sweeping legal opinions on cases of incredible complexity over his more than two decades on the federal bench," McConnell said in a statement Wednesday night. "And yet the thing you were most likely to remember about his chambers were all the photos of his wife Martha and their beloved sons Will and Jack. John was always dedicated to family first...," McConnell said.

WDRB legal analyst John David Dyche, who worked with Heyburn as an attorney, called him a "good, decent, honest, public-spirited man." Dyche said he never heard anyone say anything negative about Heyburn.

Tributes continued to be published on social media from other elected officials Wednesday night.

Heyburn had battled cancer for several years. His health took "a sudden decline in recent weeks," the court statement said.

A celebration of Heyburn's life will be announced.

Heyburn is survived by his wife, Martha; two sons, Will and Jack; his mother, Frances; sister, Frannie Pistell; and brothers, Franklin and Henry.

Photo credit: John Flavell.

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