Deborah Batts, first openly gay U.S. federal judge dies aged 72

Francis Akhalbey February 05, 2020
Deborah Batts passed away in her sleep at the age of 72 -- Photo Credit: Sam Hollenshead/NYU Photo Bureau

Deborah Batts, the first openly gay federal judge in the United States, passed away in her sleep on Sunday.

She was 72.

The announcement of her death was made by the Fordham University in a statement which acknowledged the trailblazer as its first African-American faculty member.

She left behind a husband and two children.

Batts completed her undergraduate education at the Radcliffe College in 1969, then enrolled at the Harvard Law School where she graduated in 1972. At Harvard, she held a position on the Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review editorial board.

She started her career as a clerk for Judge Lawrence Pierce, who was at that time, the U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York. She then proceeded to Cravath, Swaine & Moore in 1973 where she held an associate position in the litigation department, the statement read. She eventually became a public servant in 1979 after she was appointed as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York in the Criminal Division.

“Judge Batts was a beloved member of our community and will be greatly missed. We are grateful to her for her brilliance, passion and friendship. As the first African American woman to receive tenure and the first openly LGBTQ federal judge, she broke barriers and opened doors,” Matthew Diller, Dean of Fordham Law School said.

“Since joining the federal bench, we have been fortunate to hold on to her as a superb teacher of trial advocacy and a dear friend. She was a mentor to students and faculty alike. We will miss her sharp sense of humor and the joy that she took in life.”

Batts worked at Fordham between 1984 and 1994, initially as a Professor of Law and later as a tenured Associate Professor of Law. She, however, resigned in 1994 after she was nominated to the federal bench by former president Bill Clinton. After a successful confirmation hearing, she became the nation’s first openly gay judge.

“From her time as an (Assistant US Attorney ) in our Criminal Division through her path-breaking appointment to the federal bench more than 25 years ago, Judge Batts was a relentless stalwart for justice,” spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, Nicholas Biase, said in a statement, according to CNN.

“She will be deeply missed by our Office, in the courthouse and across the legal community.”

Batts retired as federal judge in 2012 and took up a senior status role which involved presiding over cases on a volunteer basis. She was set to preside over the trial of Michael Avenatti, the California lawyer who has been charged with stealing around $300,000 in proceeds from a book deal his former client, Stormy Daniels, signed, CNN reports.

As a woman, LGBTQ person and African-American, Batts has been touted as an outstanding trailblazer. In an interview with the New York Law Journal after her call to the federal bench in 1994, Batts, however, explained why she did not want to be regarded as a pioneer in anything as it’s just an aspect of her life.

“I’m a mother. I’m an African-American. I’m a lesbian. I’m a former professor. If people assume anyone of these aspects is going to predominate, it would create a problem,” she said.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: February 5, 2020


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