A fitting 50th: Federal jurist to be saluted at Detroit event on Oct. 28


Photo by Tom Kirvan

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

It’s rare for a federal judge to be kept in the dark, but organizers of an October 28 celebration in honor of Damon J. Keith must have felt the need until final details for the gala could be pinned down this week.

“Even though the event is not a surprise, I guess that they want to keep much of the program under wraps,” said Keith, a longtime judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals. “Whatever their motives, I am deeply appreciative of being honored.”

The comment came just hours before organizers announced that the Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights champion and longtime friend of Judge Keith, will keynote the “Equal Justice Under Law: Celebrating Judge Damon J. Keith’s 50-year Fight for Justice” gala later this month.

The celebration will take place at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, and will be co-chaired by Edsel B. Ford II, a member of the Board of Directors for Ford Motor Co. and great-grandson of the automaker’s founder, and best-selling author Mitch Albom, a Detroit Free Press columnist and WJR radio personality.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University Law School and the Charles H. Wright Museum. Tickets and sponsorships are still available. Visit eply.com/DJK50th for more information.

"We live in our faith. We live under the law and the interpreters of the law, the judges, shape our collective destiny,” Rev. Jackson said. “Judge Keith stands in the legal lineage of Thurgood Marshall. He has distinguished himself as one of the finest in the line of judges. I look forward to celebrating with him on this auspicious occasion."

Remarks also will be delivered by Congressman John Conyers of Detroit, the longest serving member of the House of Representatives.

“It has been an honor to have known and worked with Judge Keith for many years in the mission to ensure justice and equality for all people,” said Congressman Conyers. “Throughout his tenure on the federal bench, Judge Keith has made it a priority to protect the constitutional and civil rights of all Americans and continues to do so today. As we commemorate Judge Keith’s 50th anniversary as a federal judge, I also recognize him as an outstanding member of judiciary and a dear friend.”

The October 28 salute comes on the heels of a special night of recognition that Judge Keith received in late July at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. It was there on July 20, just a few rooms removed from where over the years justices have heard some of the country’s most compelling cases, Judge Keith was honored as “The Justice Fighter” in a celebration of his half-century on the federal bench, a milestone that coincided with his 95th birthday on July 4.

An overflow crowd was on hand for the event, which drew a host of VIPs, including former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, Congressman Conyers, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, and Thurgood Marshall Jr., the son of the first African American justice on the Supreme Court.

The celebration also was highlighted by a capsulized showing of the documentary film, “Walk with Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith,” a movie directed by Jesse Nesser. The film was part of the March on Washington Film Festival that played out over a 10-day July period in the nation’s capital.

Keith, appointed to the U.S. District Court in 1967 by then President Lyndon B. Johnson, has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for the past 40 years. His 1967 appointment, of course, came during a turbulent time in his native Detroit, which erupted that summer in a widespread civil disturbance that claimed the lives of 43.

Now, as he anticipates the joy of the black tie gala, Keith said he remains “honored and humbled” to serve on the federal bench.

“I am blessed to serve, especially at a time when we are facing so many challenges in the law and in society,” said Keith.


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