Detroit native Judge Damon J. Keith is an unsung hero in the ongoing fight for civil rights. Over the weekend, Keith was honored for his 50 years of service on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at a gala in the Motor City, the Northwest Herald reports.

Over five decades, Keith has seen it all. When he was still a young student at Howard University, he studied under the great Thurgood Marshall, who became the first black Supreme Court justice in October 1967. That same year Keith was appointed to the federal bench by President Lyndon B. Johnson. 

Keith has lived by the phrase “equal justice under law.” He was told to do so by Marshall at Howard.

“The white men wrote those four words," Keith said Marshall told his students. "When you leave Howard, I want you to go out and practice law and see what you can do to enforce those four words.”

While serving as a federal judge, Keith ordered a new bus policy and that new boundaries be drawn in the Pontiac, Michigan's school district, in order to break up racial segregation in 1970. His bold stance on the issue was met with harsh backlash from anti-segregationists.

A year later he decided on the Hamtramck, Michigan housing discrimination case. Black neighborhoods had been destroyed in the name of urban renewal; Keith ruled against both the local and federal government, and ordered that the issue be remedied by the construction 200 housing units for black residents.

That same year Keith presided over his most high profile case yet: a wiretapping case involving President Richard Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell. Keith found that the president had illegally wiretapped American citizens; Nixon sued him personally. The case went to the courts, and Keith was found to have acted correctly.

Keith's hard work and dedication to justice didn't go unnoticed by others in the executive branch. President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the appeals court in 1977.

Since then, Keith has served on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, and has continued to fight the good fight, ruling on several landmark cases.

In 2002, for example, he gained national attention for ruling against President George W. Bush, stating that the president can't conduct secret deportation hearings of terrorism suspects.

His opinion on that case was widely read, and is still quoted for its line, "democracies die behind closed doors."

Although he is now 95-years-old, Keith has no plans to give up the bench. He has promised to continue fighting for equal justice under the law to ensure that everyone might be treated "with dignity."