Judge Damon J. Keith

Damon J. Keith was born in Detroit, Michigan, and has served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit since 1977. Prior to his appointment to the Court of Appeals, Judge Keith served as Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Judge Keith is a graduate of West Virginia State College (B.A. 1943), Howard University Law School (J.D. 1949), where he was elected Chief Justice of the Court of Peers, and Wayne State University Law School (LL.M. 1956).

As a member of the federal judiciary, Judge Keith has consistently stood as a courageous defender of the constitutional and civil rights of all people. In United States v. Sinclair, commonly referred to as the Keith Decision, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed Judge Keith's landmark ruling prohibiting President Nixon and the federal government from engaging in warrantless wiretapping in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Judge Keith was heralded for that decisionin Joseph Gouldens' book, "The Benchwarmers," as "a prime example of an independent federal judge" who "had the courage to say 'no" in the face of "a presidency which likened itself to a 'sovereign." "The strength of the judiciary," Goulden wrote, "is rooted in just such independence as that displayed by Keith."

Judge Keith is also the recipient of numerous awards, most notably, the NAACP's highest award, the Spingarn Medal, whose past recipients include Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Justice Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and General Cohn Powell. Other prominent honors bestowed upon Judge Keith include the American Bar Association's Thurgood Marshall Award, the Distinguished Public Service Award from the National Anti-Defamation League, and the Detroit Urban League's Distinguished Warrior Award.

In 1998, Judge Keith was chosen to receive the Edward J. Deviti Distinguished Service to Justice Award. The recipient of the Devitt Award is selected each year by a panel comprised of a United States Supreme Court justice, a federal circuit judge, and a federal district court judge, and honors the recipient as an outstanding federal judge of national stature. The American Judicature Society administers the Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award on behalf of the Dwight D. Opperman Foundation. This award is considered the highest award that can be bestowed on a member of the Federal judiciary. It reflects the extraordinarily high degree of regard in which honorees are held by their colleagues on the Federal bench.

In 2011, the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University Law School opened its doors. Attorney General Eric Holder, who spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony a year earlier, offered a congratulatory video message, and columnist and author Mitch Albom gave the keynote address honoring Judge Keith as a stalwart defender of justice. In addition to promoting research and community outreach related to civil rights and racial justice, the Center — which honors and memorializes the life and legacy of Judge Keith as a civil rights icon — is a leading source for the legal history of the Civil Rights Movement and the historic accomplishments of American lawyers and judges dedicated to social justice.