Former Attorney General Mark Meierhenry died on July 29, 2020.
Meierhenry was a colorful figure in South Dakota’s political history. His career was intertwined with that of Bill Janklow. Meierhenry and Janklow were friends at USD in the 1960s and worked together on the Rosebud Reservation for the legal aid office. When Janklow ran for Governor in 1978, Meierhenry ran for his spot as Attorney General. The two were sworn in together, shortly after the stroke of midnight on January 1, 1979.
I didn’t know Meierhenry well but I had the chance to visit with him and listen to his stories on two or three occasions. He was a world-class storyteller. On one of those occasions, Meierhenry told me that during his days in the AG’s office, they had a goal of getting a case before the U.S. Supreme Court every year. They didn’t meet that goal but they came remarkably close; as I noted in a blog post in 2018, Meierhenry argued six times before the Court on behalf of South Dakota, more than any other AG.
Following his stint as AG, Meierhenry faded from the political scene somewhat, beginning a long and distinguished career in private practice. His public profile was overshadowed by that of his wife, Judith Meierhenry, who had gone to law school while Mark was in the AG’s office, graduating in 1977. Judy served in the Janklow administration as Secretary of Education and Secretary of Labor and was appointed as a second circuit judge. Shortly before Janklow left office in 2002, he appointed her to the South Dakota Supreme Court, making her the state’s first female justice; she served until 2011.
I would also add that Meierhenry took an unexpected turn as an author of children’s books, co-authoring with former State Treasurer Dave Volk The Mystery of the Round Rocks, The Mystery of the Tree Rings, The Mystery of the Maize, and The Mystery of the Pheasants. (My children have enjoyed all three.)
Meierhenry’s death is a real loss to those studying the history of South Dakota in the 1960s, and 1970s, and 1980s. He cared about history, though – it was a gift from the Meierhenrys that allowed the SD Historical Society Press to publish a new edition of Peter Norbeck’s memoirs. So I was happy to read in Meierhenry’s obituary the following: “He spent the last several months trying to start and finish his memoirs, but had to leave the final touches to his granddaughter, Hannah, as the disease overcame him.”