Deborah Batts, America's First Openly Gay Federal Judge, Dies At 72
Dozens of politicians honored the Manhattan federal judge.
February 07, 2020 at 8:32 pm
Tributes have been pouring in to honor the life and legacy of iconic Manhattan federal Judge Deborah Batts, the country's first openly gay federal judge, reports CNN.
Judge Deborah Battsmwas the 1st openly-gay black woman on the federal bench. She was a trailblazer. She was a member of the @lgbtbarny for many years. Her decades of service are an inspiration to the diverse LGBT legal professionals this bar represents. She will be deeply missed. pic.twitter.com/vll6Tsj1zJ— LGBT Bar of NY ⚖️ (@lgbtbarny) February 3, 2020
She was nominated for a judicial position on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1994 by President Bill Clinton and was easily confirmed by the Senate at the time. Fordham Law School said she was also the college's first Black faculty member.
"I'm a mother. I'm an African American. I'm a lesbian. I'm a former professor. If people assume any one of these aspects is going to predominate, it would create a problem," Batts told the New York Law Journal in 1994.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio released a statement about her death and commended her for a decorated career in public service.
Deborah Batts was a trailblazer for women and the LGBTQ community — and above all else a champion for justice. On behalf of the city she served, I offer our deepest condolences to her family, friends and all who knew and loved her. https://t.co/NYGrIM0JwD— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) February 3, 2020
In another tweet, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who was sworn in by Batts, called the judge a "fighter for progress" and "a trailblazer who broke new ground and inspired many New Yorkers and young lawyers to fight for justice."
Matthew Diller, the dean of Fordham Law School, said 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 to receive tenure at Fordham Law and the first openly LGBTQ federal judge, she broke barriers and opened doors. 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,” Diller added.
The Philadelphia native has dozens of firsts associated with her name and worked in private practice before becoming a judge. She eventually went back to teaching at Fordham but spent decades breaking barriers in the judicial field. She got her degree from Radcliffe College in 1969 and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School.
"From her time as an [Assistant U.S. 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. She will be deeply missed by our office, in the courthouse and across the legal community," said Nicholas Biase, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.
Some of her most famous cases involved al-Qaida member Mamdouh Mahmud Salim and a defamation lawsuit against Bill O'Reilly.
The iconic judicial legend retired from the bench in 2012 but would often take cases voluntarily. She was slated to decide the coming trial of Michael Avenatti who is on trial for allegedly stealing money from his former client Stormy Daniels.