Damon Keith

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Damon Keith
Damon Keith Circuit Judge.jpg
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
In office
October 21, 1977 – May 1, 1995
Appointed by Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Wade McCree
Succeeded by Richard Griffin
Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
In office
December 13, 1975 – October 21, 1977
Preceded by Frederick Kaess
Succeeded by Cornelia Kennedy
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
In office
October 12, 1967 – October 21, 1977
Appointed by Lyndon Johnson
Preceded by Thomas Thornton
Succeeded by Patricia Boyle
Personal details
Born (1922-07-04) July 4, 1922 (age 96)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Alma mater West Virginia State University
Howard University
Wayne State University

Damon Jerome Keith (born July 4, 1922) is a Senior Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Life and career

Keith grew up in Detroit, where he graduated from Northwestern High School in 1939; Keith then moved on to West Virginia State College (B.A. 1943), Howard University School of Law (J.D. 1949), and Wayne State University Law School (L.L.M. 1956). Keith married Rachel Boone in 1953 and they had three daughters.[1] Rachel died on January 4, 2007.

In 1964 Keith was elected co-chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission with John Feikens and was a key player in the tumultuous times following the Detroit race riots. In 1967 Senator Philip Hart suggested Keith to President Lyndon Johnson, who nominated Keith to his seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Keith eventually rose to Chief Judge of the District Court. In 1977 he was nominated to the Sixth Circuit by President Jimmy Carter where he has remained.[2]

In 1974 Keith was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.[3] Keith is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.[4] In 2008 Keith received an honorary doctorate in law from Harvard University.[5]

Notable cases

In United States v. Sinclair (1971), Keith famously ruled that Nixon's Attorney General John N. Mitchell had to disclose the transcripts of illegal wiretaps that Mitchell had authorized without first obtaining a search warrant. Keith's decision was upheld by the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court.[1] The Supreme Court's landmark decision in United States v. U.S. District Court (1972) (also known as "the Keith case") contributed in 1978 to president Jimmy Carter signing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). That decision is commemorated as a "Michigan Legal Milestone" called "the Uninvited Ear" and erected by the State Bar of Michigan.[6]

In Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft (2002), Keith decision, upheld by the District Court, found that absolute closure of deportation hearings in "special interest" cases was unconstitutional. Under the authorization of Attorney General John Ashcroft, Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy told all immigration judges to close to the public and media all hearings associated with immigration that were thought to be related to the 11 September investigation.[7] These cases were advised to be handled in seclusion, "closed off from the public", and were held in special interest of national security. Officials terminated public records of the case and removed them from the court's docket. This rule of closed deportation hearings became known as the "Creppy directive".[8] Members of the press and public filed two of the cases challenging the Government's closure of removal proceedings. The plaintiffs in those cases are (1) the Detroit Free Press, Inc. and Herald Co., Inc. (d/b/a the Ann Arbor News) (the “free press plaintiffs”) and (2) the Detroit News, Inc., Congressman John Conyers, Jr., and Metro Times, Inc. (the “Detroit News plaintiffs”); the two are collectively the "newspaper plaintiffs". The third case, filed by the ACLU of Michigan representing Rabih Haddad ("Haddad"), one of the men against whom the government had instituted removal proceedings stated that Haddad, a native of Lebanon, resided in Ann Arbor, Michigan, off and on since 1988. Haddadd came to the United States in 1998 on six-month tourist visas. On December 14, 2001, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”) took Haddad into custody for overstaying his visa and initiated removal proceedings in Detroit before Immigration Judge Elizabeth Hacker.[9]

Prominent Past Clerks

He has been called a father-figure to Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm. He administered the oath of office to her in both 2002 and 2006.[10] Former law clerks also include Lani Guinier, the first African-American woman to gain tenure at Harvard Law School;[11][12] Judge Eric L. Clay, who now serves with Judge Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit;[2] Ronald Machen, the current United States Attorney for the District of Columbia;[13] David C. Simmons, the current Chief Administrative Law Judge of the District of Columbia Commission on Human Rights, professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, and former Athletic Director of Howard University; [14] Constance L. Rice, prominent civil rights activist and co-founder of the Advancement Project;[15] Rashad Hussain, Deputy Associate Counsel to President Barack Obama, and the U.S. representative to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference;[16] and Jocelyn F. Benson, Dean of Wayne State University Law School and the 2010 Democratic candidate for Michigan Secretary of State.[17]


Judge Keith donated his personal papers to the Walter P. Reuther Library in 1994. The materials come from milestones in his career, including his precedent-setting judicial decisions, his commitment to equality for all in the American justice system, and the many forms of recognition he received for his dedication to civil rights and Detroit. [1]

"Walk with Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith," a documentary of Judge Keith's life, is set to premiere June 17, 2015 in Detroit. [18]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Damon J. Keith Collection" (PDF). Wayne State University. Retrieved 16 May 2010.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "damonk" defined multiple times with different content
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Fighters for Justice: Damon J. Keith". Retrieved 17 May 2010. 
  3. NAACP Spingarn Medal
  4. "Alpha Phi Alpha Politicians". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved 16 May 2010. 
  5. "Summary Biography The Honorable Damon J. Keith". Retrieved 17 May 2010. 
  6. "The Uninvited Ear". State Bar of Michigan. Retrieved 16 May 2010. 
  7. CASE NOTE: Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft and North Jersey Media Group v. Ashcroft: Enduring Freedom: Can Post-September Eleventh Closure of "Special Interest" Deportation Hearings Withstand First Amendment Scrutiny? Arkansas Law Review
  8. Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft
  9. Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft (PDF)
  10. "Judge Damon J. Keith swears in Michigan's first woman governor". Jet. Johnson. 2003-01-20. Retrieved 16 May 2010. 
  11. "Damon J. Keith Bibliography". Retrieved 16 May 2010. 
  12. Bronner, Ethan (1998-01-24). "Lani Guinier Joins Faculty of Law School at Harvard". New York Times. Retrieved 16 May 2010. 
  13. "Biography of U.S. Attorney, United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia". Retrieved 16 February 2011. 
  14. "David C. Simmons Faculty Profile". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  15. "National Civil Rights Activist, Attorney and NPR Commentator to Speak in Detroit, Oct. 23". Retrieved 16 August 2010. 
  16. "President Obama Announces Key Additions to the Office of the White House Counsel". Retrieved 16 August 2010. 
  17. Wayne State University Law School Bio for Jocelyn F. Benson
  18. "Documentary on Judge Damon J. Keith to debut in Detroit". Retrieved 15 June 2015. 

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Thomas Thornton
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
Succeeded by
Patricia Boyle
Preceded by
Frederick Kaess
Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
Succeeded by
Cornelia Kennedy
Preceded by
Wade McCree
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Succeeded by
Richard Griffin