Funeral service held for Judge Damon J. Keith in Detroit

Service honored civil rights icon


DETROIT – The funeral for Judge Damon J. Keith was held Monday morning in Detroit.

Keith, a grandson of slaves and figure in the civil rights movement who as a federal judge was sued by President Richard Nixon over a ruling against warrantless wiretaps, died on April 28. He was 96.

Watch the full service below:

LIVE COVERAGE: Funeral service for Judge Damon J. Keith in Detroit

Posted by WDIV Local 4 / ClickOnDetroit on Monday, May 13, 2019

Keith died in Detroit, the city where the prominent lawyer was appointed in 1967 to the U.S. District Court, according to the Swanson Funeral Home.


Keith served more than 50 years in the federal courts, and before his death still heard cases about four times a year at the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

A revered figure in Detroit for years, Keith captured the nation’s attention with the wiretapping case against Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell in 1971. Keith said they couldn’t engage in the warrantless wiretapping of three people suspected of conspiring to destroy government property. The decision was affirmed by the appellate court, and the Nixon administration appealed and sued Keith personally. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the judge prevailed in what became known as “the Keith case.”

Keith revisited the civil liberties theme roughly 30 years later in an opinion that said President George W. Bush couldn’t conduct secret deportation hearings of terrorism suspects. Keith’s opinion contained the line, “Democracies die behind closed doors.” A similar phrase — “Democracy dies in darkness” — is now the slogan of The Washington Post, which has credited Keith.

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