Detroit federal judge Damon Keith dies at 96

State, local leaders remember civil rights activist

DETROIT – Detroit federal judge Damon Keith who authored landmark rulings on civil liberties died Sunday. He was 96. 

State and local leaders are reacting to the civil rights activist's passing. 

"Our country has lost a legal titan who spent more than half a century as a crusader for civil rights. His decisions from the bench prevented the federal government from infringing on individual liberties and helped to battle systemic racism in corporations, municipalities and schools. I first came to Michigan to clerk for Judge Keith, who became my mentor. I was proud to serve as dean at the law school that houses the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights," said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. 

Federal Judge Damon Keith with Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson at her swearing in ceremony. (WDIV)
Federal Judge Damon Keith with Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson at her swearing in ceremony. (WDIV)

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan issued the following statement reflecting on the life and legacy of Keith: 

"Detroit lost a dear friend this morning with the passing of Judge Damon Keith, and America lost a national treasure.

Judge Keith left as indelible a mark on this nation and our city as any jurist in history. During his more than 50 years on the federal bench, he handed down rulings that have safeguarded some of our most important and cherished civil liberties, stopping illegal government wiretaps and secret deportation hearings, as well as ending the racial segregation of Pontiac schools.

Here in Detroit, he opened the doors for countless young law clerks, many of who have gone on to become judges themselves.   

I have so many fond memories of Judge Keith. I was humbled and honored the two times he administered the oath of office when I was sworn in as Mayor. I will always treasure the Thanksgiving Day I spent with him in 2016, driving him in the parade as he served as Grand Marshal.  
America is a better place because it had Judge Keith to help safeguard our civil liberties. Our city is a better place because he spent every day of his life as a committed and involved Detroiter. We will miss him dearly."

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