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Crusader for Justice: Federal Judge Damon J. Keith

Chat with Trevor W. Coleman and Peter J. Hammer about their new book, hosted by bmaz and Prof. Kevin Jon Heller.

The Honorable Damon J. Keith was appointed to the federal bench in 1967 and has served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit since 1977, where he has been an eloquent defender of civil and constitutional rights and a vigorous enforcer of civil rights law. In Crusader for Justice: Federal Judge Damon J. Keith, author Trevor W. Coleman presents the first ever biography of native Detroiter Judge Keith, surveying his education, important influences, major cases, and professional and personal commitments. Along the way, Coleman consults a host of Keith’s notable friends and colleagues, including former White House deputy counsel John Dean, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and industrialist Edsel Ford II for this candid and comprehensive volume.

Coleman traces Keith’s early life, from his public school days in Detroit to his time serving in the segregated U.S. army and his law school years at Howard University at the dawn of the Civil Rights era. He reveals how Keith’s passion for racial and social justice informed his career, as he became co-chairman of Michigan’s first Civil Rights Commission and negotiated the politics of his appointment to the federal judiciary. Coleman goes on to detail Keith’s most famous cases, including the Pontiac Busing and Hamtramck Housing cases, the 1977 Detroit Police affirmative action case, the so-called Keith Case (United States v. U.S. District Court), and the Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft case in 2002. He also traces Keith’s personal commitment to mentoring young black lawyers, provides a candid look behind the scenes at the dynamics and politics of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and even discusses some of Keith’s difficult relationships, for instance with the Detroit NAACP and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Judge Keith’s forty-five years on the bench offer a unique viewpoint on a tumultuous era of American and legal history. Readers interested in Civil Rights-era law, politics, and personalities will appreciate the portrait of Keith’s fortitude and conviction in Crusader for Justice.

Damon J. Keith was born in Detroit, Michigan, on July 4, 1922. He is a graduate of West Virginia State College (B.A. 1943), Howard University Law School (J.D. 1949) and Wayne State University Law School (LL.M. 1956). In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Keith to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, where he ultimately served as chief judge. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 1977. As a member of the federal judiciary, Judge Keith has been a courageous defender of constitutional rights, giving real meaning to the promise of “equal justice under law.” Judge Keith is the recipient of numerous awards, most notably, the NAACP’s highest honor, the Spingarn Medal, and the Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a member of the federal judiciary.

Trevor W. Coleman is a national award-winning journalist, who has been an editorial writer, and columnist for the Detroit Free Press. He was chief speechwriter for former Michigan governor Jennifer M. Granholm and director of communications for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. He is a graduate of The Ohio State University and father of two college students, Sydnie and Trevor II. (Wayne State University Press)