Esteemed federal jurist led distinguished panel

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Among those on hand for the luncheon were (l-r) attorney Rasul Raheem, Circuit Court Judge Edward Ewell Jr., U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts, and attorney Reginald Turner.

By Sharika Robinson


Judge Damon J. Keith personifies the “American Dream.” He rose from humble beginnings to become national Chairman of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, a position to which the Hon. Judge Damon J. Keith headed all federal judges and a committee of jurists who unanimously agreed that only his name would be on every Bill of Rights plaque that would be displayed in federal courthouses across the country and Guam.   

Born on July 4, 1922, to parents of modest means, he was taught by his parents the value of education, dedication, and diligence. Perry Keith, Judge Keith’s father, encouraged him to attend college. Judge Keith took his father’s advice, and in 1943 he graduated from West Virginia State University. After graduating from college, Judge Keith served in the military during World War II. While in the military, Judge Keith was subjected to extreme racism. It was then that Judge Keith established a goal to attend law school to be better equipped to eradicate racism. After hearing of the Houstonian tradition, which teaches that the law is an instrument of social change, Judge Keith decided to attend Howard Law and studied under the mentorship of Charles Hamilton Houston and Justice Thurgood Marshall. 

When Judge Keith graduated from law school, he returned to Detroit, which had a primarily white judicial system. There were no black judges, very few black attorneys, and black clients did not hire the few black lawyers in practice. Although his chances of success appeared bleak, Judge Keith studied for and passed the Michigan Bar – all while working as a janitor.

Judge Keith did not seek a judicial appointment or judgeship. His sole desire as an attorney and judge is “to do what is right.” After years of practice, he was appointed in 1967 by President Lyndon Johnson to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Within 10 years, Judge Keith earned the position of Chief Judge of the Eastern District of Michigan. In 1977, he was appointed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by President Jimmy Carter. There, Judge Keith vigorously defended the Constitution and still continues to do so today.  

In 1985, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger appointed Judge Keith as Chairman of the Bicentennial of the Constitution Committee for the Sixth Circuit. Due to his excellent leadership skills as Chairman of the Sixth Circuit, Judge Keith in 1987 was nominated by Chief Justice William Rehnquist to serve as national Chairman of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Bicentennial of the Constitution. As national Chairman, Judge Keith sat amongst some of the most prominent jurists in the nation. Included on that committee were Justice Harry A. Blackmun, former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Judges Arthur L. Alarcon, Frank X. Altimari, Adrian G. Duplantier, William Brevard Hand, Patrick F. Kelly, James H. Meredith, Robert C. Murphy, Helen W. Nies, James E. Noland, Jaime Pieras Jr., Delores Korman Sloviter, Kenneth W. Starr, and J. Harvie Wilkinson III, and Justice Edward F. Hennessey. Notably, Judge Keith was the only black man on the committee. Nonetheless, his name is the only name that appears on the plaque. 

As we close Black History Month, all, regardless of current circumstances, should be inspired by Judge Keith to live the American Dream!

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Sharika Robinson currently serves as a law clerk to Judge Damon J. Keith.

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