Today, we honor Federal District Judge Deborah A. Batts, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 72. Batts became the first openly lesbian federal judge in 1994 when she was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by President Bill Clinton.
“Lambda Legal mourns the passing of Judge Deborah Batts, an inspiration to so many in the legal world,” said Sharon McGowan, Legal Director and Chief Strategy Officer at Lambda Legal, in a statement. “Judge Batts will forever be known not only as the first openly LGBT federal judge, but also as the embodiment of the highest standards of professional excellence.”
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Batts graduated from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, MA with a BA before earning her Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School in 1972. Following her graduation, Batts worked in private practice for a number of years before being appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York City. She then became the first African-American faculty member at Fordham Law School, where she worked as an associate professor. At the same time, Batts acted intermittently as Faculty Corporation Counsel in the Trial Advocacy Program and Special Associate Counsel for the NYC Department of Investigation.
“Judge Batts lived an extraordinary life and leaves a remarkable legacy,” McGowan continued. “She was a trailblazer as an openly LGBT judge, but she was also a mother, a lawyer, a prosecutor, and someone who inspired generations of law students. All of these aspects of her identity were what made Judge Batts the incredible person that she was. We honor her memory by strengthening our commitment to diversity within our judicial system, and in the legal profession as a whole.”
Batts assumed senior status on the federal bench in 2012 and has remained a loyal member to the Bar Association of the City of New York, the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, and the Lesbian and Gay Law Association of Greater New York.
“While there will never be another Deborah Batts, there are many extraordinary LGBTQ people of color in the legal profession who are far too often overlooked for positions of leadership and public trust, including federal judgeships,” added McGowan.