Damon Keith
Keith in 2018
Senior Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
In office
May 1, 1995 – April 28, 2019
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
In office
October 21, 1977 – May 1, 1995
Appointed byJimmy Carter
Preceded byWade H. McCree
Succeeded byRichard Allen Griffin
Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
In office
December 13, 1975 – November 22, 1977
Preceded byFrederick William Kaess
Succeeded byCornelia Groefsema Kennedy
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
In office
October 12, 1967 – November 22, 1977
Appointed byLyndon B. Johnson
Preceded byThomas Patrick Thornton
Succeeded byPatricia Boyle
Personal details
Damon Jerome Keith

(1922-07-04)July 4, 1922
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
DiedApril 28, 2019(2019-04-28) (aged 96)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
EducationWest Virginia State University (BA)
Howard University (LLB)
Wayne State University (LLM)

Damon Jerome Keith (July 4, 1922 – April 28, 2019) was a United States circuit judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and a former United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Keith died in office at age 96.

Education and career

Keith was born and grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where he graduated from Northwestern High School in 1939. Keith then moved on to West Virginia State College where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1943. He served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946. He then attended Howard University School of Law where he received a Bachelor of Laws in 1949, and Wayne State University Law School where he received a Master of Laws in 1956. He was in the private practice of law in Detroit from 1950 to 1967. He was an attorney in the Office of the Friend of the Court in Detroit from 1951 to 1955.[1] 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.


Keith married Rachel Boone in 1953 and they had three daughters.[2] Rachel died on January 4, 2007. Keith died on April 28, 2019, at his home in Detroit, at the age of 96.[3] The cause was complications from leukemia and cardiovascular disease.[4]

Federal judicial service

At the suggestion of United States Senator Philip Hart, Keith was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 25, 1967, to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan vacated by Judge Thomas Patrick Thornton. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on October 12, 1967, and received his commission the same day. He served as Chief Judge from 1975 to 1977. His service was terminated on November 22, 1977, due to his elevation to the Sixth Circuit.[1]

Keith was nominated by President Jimmy Carter on September 28, 1977, to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit vacated by Judge Wade H. McCree. He was confirmed by the Senate on October 20, 1977, and received his commission on October 21, 1977. He was a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States from 1975 to 1978. He assumed senior status on May 1, 1995.[5][1]

Memberships and honors

In 1974, Keith was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.[6] Keith is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.[7] In 2008, Keith received an honorary doctorate in law (Legum Doctor) from Harvard University.[8]

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.[2] 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.[9]

In Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft (2002), Keith, writing for a unanimous panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, 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 September 11 investigation.[10] 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".[11] 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.[12]

Prominent clerks

Keith has been called a father-figure to former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, who previously clerked for him. He administered the oath of office to her in both 2003 and 2007.[13] Former law clerks also include:


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.[2]

His estate made a $100,000 bequest to a scholarship fund in his name at West Virginia State University.[23]

"Walk with Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith," directed by Jesse Nesser, tells the story of Keith's life. It made its world premiere at Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival in 2016.[24]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Damon Jerome Keith at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  2. ^ a b c "Damon J. Keith Collection" (PDF). Wayne State University. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 18, 2010. Retrieved May 16, 2010.
  3. ^ "Judge Damon J. Keith dies at age 96". WXYZ. April 28, 2019. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  4. ^ "Damon J. Keith, Trailblazing Black Jurist Who Upheld Civil Rights, Dies at 96". The Washington Post. April 30, 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Fighters for Justice: Damon J. Keith". Archived from the original on July 8, 2010. Retrieved May 17, 2010.
  6. ^ NAACP Spingarn Medal Archived 2014-08-02 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Alpha Phi Alpha Politicians". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved May 16, 2010.
  8. ^ "Summary Biography The Honorable Damon J. Keith". Archived from the original on July 15, 2009. Retrieved May 17, 2010.
  9. ^ "The Uninvited Ear". State Bar of Michigan. Archived from the original on August 22, 2010. Retrieved May 16, 2010.
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ "FindLaw's United States Sixth Circuit case and opinions". Findlaw.
  12. ^ "Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft (PDF)" (PDF).
  13. ^ "Judge Damon J. Keith swears in Michigan's first woman governor". Jet. Johnson. January 20, 2003. Retrieved May 16, 2010.
  14. ^ "Damon J. Keith Bibliography". Archived from the original on August 14, 2009. Retrieved May 16, 2010.
  15. ^ Bronner, Ethan (January 24, 1998). "Lani Guinier Joins Faculty of Law School at Harvard". The New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2010.
  16. ^ "Biography of U.S. Attorney, United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia". Archived from the original on January 2, 2011. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
  17. ^ "David C. Simmons Faculty Profile". Retrieved March 20, 2015.
  18. ^ "National Civil Rights Activist, Attorney and NPR Commentator to Speak in Detroit, Oct. 23". Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved August 16, 2010.
  19. ^ "President Obama Announces Key Additions to the Office of the White House Counsel". whitehouse.gov. January 28, 2009. Retrieved August 16, 2010 – via National Archives.
  20. ^ University, Wayne State. "Wayne Law - Wayne State University". www.law.wayne.edu. Archived from the original on July 2, 2010. Retrieved November 18, 2010.
  21. ^ "Daniel Abebe | University of Chicago Law School". www.law.uchicago.edu. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  22. ^ "Judge Jonathan J.C. Grey". Retrieved April 2, 2023.
  23. ^ "Estate of prominent federal judge leaves $100,000 to school". Star Tribune. December 18, 2019. Archived from the original on January 2, 2020. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  24. ^ "Women directors fill key U.S. categories at Traverse City film fest".