In a career that spans nearly fifty years, the Honorable Damon J. Keith, who is a Senior Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, is continuing to build on his legacy with the release of his first ever biography, Crusader for Justice: Federal Judge Damon J. Keith. Published by Wayne State University Press, Crusader chronicles the life and legacy of a legendary judge and community advocate who “stood his ground” in making sure that the Constitution was upheld and the rights of diverse constituencies protected. The authors – Peter J. Hammer and Trevor W. Coleman – included painstaking research and interviews showcasing the turbulent times that Judge Keith’s career has covered and the landmark cases that he decided. “
Born on Independence Day (July 4th) in 1922 in Detroit, Michigan, Judge Keith has left a significant mark on the United States justice system and the rights of Michigan’s residents. In 1939, he graduated from Northwestern High School, he received his Bachelor of Arts from West Virginia State College in 1943, received his JD from Howard University School of Law in 1949, and his LLM from Wayne State University Law School in 1956. Diversity and inclusion are not often terms used in the legal profession, but Judge Keith has been a consistent voice for the voiceless and his decisions have proactively influenced the public and private sectors. Judge Keith, who has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit since 1977, has served as the guiding spirit for many in the legal profession and the moral compass for diversity of thought regarding human and civil rights. In addition to serving in the United States Army and prior to joining the Court of Appeals, he served as the Chief Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, and on the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. “Judge Keith has provided spirited decisions that speak truth to power regarding constitutional rights and the application of law,” stated Hammer. “It was only fitting to document his decisions and the impact of his career on bringing diverse viewpoints to the forefront and protections of the freedoms we all hold dear.”
Crusader for Justice highlights the spectrum of Judge Keith’s decisions ranging from “President Richard M. Nixon and the federal government from engaging in wiretapping without warrants” to “prohibiting the Bush administration from conducting post-9/11 deportation hearings in secret.” According to the biography, in keeping with his “crusade” to protect human rights and civil liberties; his decisions have led to the desegregation of public schools, breaking the color lines, improving diversity at corporations and making sure that municipalities repair damages that are a direct result of systemic racism. “Because he experienced racial injustice firsthand, he could bring his life experience to the forefront and emphasize the importance of diversity in the legal profession and protecting the rights of individuals, protect the interests of the nation; and fight racism and discrimination,” added Hammer.
In celebration of his stellar career, Judge Keith has received numerous accolades, awards and more than 40 honorary degrees from colleges and universities nationwide including Harvard, Yale and the University of Michigan. He was also honored with the coveted “Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award”, which is the highest award that can be given to a member of the federal judiciary.
The Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights opened in 2011 with its mission focused on “promoting the educational, economic and political power of underrepresented communities in urban settings.” The opening attracted over 600 attendees including federal and state leaders and a congratulatory video message from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The center is a teaching and research facility where conferences and meetings can be held in the $6 million, 10,000 square foot space embedded within the Wayne State University campus. In 2013, his alma mater, West Virginia State College (now University), began construction on the Judge Damon J. Keith Scholars Hall – a state-of-the-art 30 million dollar residence hall, which opened in August 2014.
From his humble roots in Detroit where he overcame racism and discrimination to his landmark decisions on the Federal bench where he ruled on decisions that impacted national security, human rights and civil liberties; at 92 years old, Judge Damon J. Keith continues his crusade for justice and empowering communities.