Wilhelmina M. Wright: Damon Keith a sharer of wisdom

Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright

On the Tuesday after Labor Day in 1989, I crossed the threshold of Judge Damon J. Keith’s chambers, and my life changed.

... Judge Keith approaches the law with humility and justice without compromise. He is a patient and generous teacher, with an unyielding standard of excellence. “Without fear or favor.” The first time I heard him utter those words, I thought I was overhearing him as he spoke to himself. Then I realized that he was speaking to me, ensuring that I understood how to approach every case. Judge Keith demands a fearless, uncompromising allegiance to justice.

I recall a particularly animated “exchange of ideas” with my co-clerks about a case. Abstract arguments swirled. Our voices reached full volume. Overhearing us, Judge Keith impatiently shooed us out of his chambers. He sent us to observe the District Court proceedings upstairs. We were missing what he knew instinctively about the law — the law affects everyday people in their most important affairs. Keith clerks had to understand that legal doctrine is animated by the hopes and strivings of real people who entrust their most important affairs to our courts. More than the visits from the powerful, the celebrated, and the well-known friends of the judge who came to chambers for his hospitality and wise counsel, which are indelible memories, it is Judge Keith’s practical wisdom, unwavering commitment to justice, and encouragement to pursue our dreams that Judge Keith instilled so freely in us, his law clerks, and that I carry with me as a proud and grateful Keith clerk.

Wilhelmina M. Wright

U.S. District Judge, Minnesota, and former law clerk