Key dates in the law career of Judge Damon Keith

The Detroit News
Judge Damon Keith talks about his long history in his chambers in Detroit, on August 30, 2005.

July 4, 1922 – Damon Jerome Keith is born in Detroit

1939 – Graduates from Northwestern High School

1943 – Earns a bachelor's degree from West Virginia State College; is drafted into the military.

1949 – Earns a law degree from Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C. 

1950 –  Passes the Michigan bar exam

1956 – Earns a master's of law degree from Wayne State University Law School

1958 – Becomes a member of the Wayne County Board of Supervisors

1960 – Becomes the first African American commissioner-at-large for the State Bar of Michigan; becomes president of the Detroit Housing Commission

1963 – Becomes co-chairman of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission

1964 – Establishes his own law practice: Keith, Conyers, Anderson, Brown, & Wahls

1967 – Appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan by President Lyndon Johnson

1970 – One of his rulings leads to the busing of students in the Pontiac schools to racially desegregate the district, sparking a backlash.

1971 – Orders the U.S. government under President Richard Nixon to stop wiretapping defendants without judicial approval. The decision is critical to the Watergate case that eventually would bring down the president.

1975 – Named chief judge of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan

1977 – Elevated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth District in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter

1987 – Appointed by Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist as the national chairman of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Bicentennial of the Constitution

1995 – Takes senior status with the federal appeals court but continues to write opinions

2002 – Rebukes the George W. Bush White House in a post-Sept. 11 decision ordering that "special interest" hearings in deportation cases be open to the public. He also upholds a 2002 lower court decision prohibiting the Justice Department from barring the public and press from deportation hearings, leading to his widely quoted declaration, “Democracy dies behind closed doors.”

2016 – Issues a scathing dissent in a 6th Circuit ruling that upholds some Ohio election laws that created stricter rules for voters, saying the decision “takes us several steps back” from the Voting Rights Act of 1965.