Black History Month–Day 20

In honor of Black History Month, here are few profiles of contributors to history of African descent:

Judge Damon J. Keith

The Honorable Damon J. Keith

Damon J. Keith was born in Detroit, Michigan, and has served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit since 1977. Prior to his appointment to the Court of Appeals, Judge Keith served as Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Judge Keith is a graduate of West Virginia State College (B.A. 1943), Howard University Law School (J.D. 1949), where he was elected Chief Justice of the Court of Peers, and Wayne State University Law School (LL.M. 1956).

As a member of the federal judiciary, Judge Keith has consistently stood as a courageous defender of the constitutional and civil rights of all people. In United States v. Sinclair, commonly referred to as the Keith Decision, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed Judge Keith’s landmark ruling prohibiting President Nixon and the federal government from engaging in warrantless wiretapping in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Judge Keith was heralded for that decision in Joseph Goulden’s book, The Benchwarmers, as “a prime example of an independent federal judge” who “had the courage to say ‘no'” in the face of “a presidency which likened itself to a ‘sovereign.'” “The strength of the judiciary,” Goulden wrote, “is rooted in just such independence as that displayed by Keith.”

More recently, in Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft, Judge Keith stood up to President George W. Bush during the aftermath of 9/11. Writing for a unanimous United States Court of Appeals panel, Judge Keith memorably declared “Democracies die behind closed doors,” and ruled it unlawful for the Bush administration to conduct deportation hearings in secret whenever the government asserted that the people involved might be linked to terrorism. In his September 2, 2002 op-ed entitled, Secrecy is Our Enemy, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert lauded Judge Keith’s opinion as “forceful” and “eloquent,” noting, “You want an American hero? A real hero? I nominate Judge Damon J. Keith of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.”

Judge Keith has also vigorously enforced the nation’s civil rights laws, most notably in the areas of employment and education. In Stamps v. Detroit Edison Co., Judge Keith ruled the Detroit Edison Company had practiced systematic racial discrimination, resulting in fines against the company of $4 million and against the employee union of $250,000, and an order for the company to institute an aggressive affirmative action program. Within the context of education, in Davis v. School District of Pontiac, Judge Keith found that the city had unlawfully built schools to coincide with segregated housing patterns. Accordingly, he ordered the implementation of city-wide busing to promote integration and to guarantee equal protection under the law for all children.

Judge Keith’s fidelity to the U.S. Constitution has been well recognized. In 1985, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger appointed Judge Keith Chairman of the Bicentennial of the Constitution Committee for the Sixth Circuit. In 1987, Judge Keith was appointed by Chief Justice William Rehnquist to serve as the National Chairman of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Bicentennial of the Constitution.

Judge Keith has received over forty honorary degrees from colleges and universities across the country. His most recent is an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree bestowed by Harvard University, on June 5, 2008. The citation states “Avatar of independence, champion of equal justice under law, a just and humane jurist who has shared and shaped the action and passion of his time”. Harvard’s honorary degree provides only a small window into Judge Keith’s distinguished career.

In 2010, Judge Keith was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta.

Thanks to Tanisha and Bryan Jones and their daughter Sinai for compiling these profiles from the following sources:

1) The Encyclopedia of African-American Heritage, by Susan Altman
2) The Roots website,
3) Famous Black Inventors website,