Trail-Blazing Sixth Circuit Judge Damon Keith Dies at 96
Sixth Circuit Judge Damon J. Keith died this weekend at the age of 96. He served on the Sixth Circuit for over 40 years. A civil rights icon, he issued notable opinions addressing racial desegregation in public education, warrantless Nixon-era wiretaps, and blanket secrecy for deportation hearings of terrorism suspects after 9/11. In remembrance, the Sixth Circuit has posted this biographical video, including Judge Keith’s own words about his experiences with segregation and the mentorship he received from US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. The Eastern District of Michigan has posted this reflection on his life, including in particular his impact in Michigan. News outlets and civil rights groups around the country are noting his passing — including the New York Times, the Detroit Free Press, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
A lifelong Detroit resident, Judge Keith was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967. President Jimmy Carter later appointed him to the Sixth Circuit in 1977. Although he took senior status in 1995, he continued to sit for cases (and in fact, he was on the panel in decisions issued just last week).
Among his well-known rulings: In Davis v. School District of Pontiac, the Sixth Circuit affirmed Judge Keith’s findings that the school board perpetuated racial segregation within the city by lining up schools and school-boundaries with segregated housing patterns. To remedy these Fourteenth Amendment violations, Judge Keith ordered that the schools be integrated, including by city-wide busing. In United States v. Sinclair, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed Judge Keith’s ruling that the Nixon administration’s warrantless wiretapping violated the Fourth Amendment. In Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft, writing for a unanimous Sixth Circuit panel, Judge Keith held that the government’s categorical assertion of national security as grounds for conducting all deportation hearings of terrorism suspects in secret did not pass muster under the First Amendment.
Details on the public visitation and simulcast services can be found here.