Lambda Legal Mourns Passing of Judge Deborah Batts

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February 4, 2020

Federal District Judge Deborah A Batts, the first openly lesbian federal judge when she was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by President Bill Clinton in in 1994, died Sunday at the age of 72.

Lambda Legal mourns the passing of Judge Deborah Batts, an inspiration to so many in the legal world. 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.

Judge Batts’ nomination by President Clinton to the federal bench in 1994 was a watershed moment for openly LGBT people in the legal profession. But as we commemorate Black History Month, we acknowledge as well how significant her nomination remains even today for attorneys of color – and particularly black attorneys – who are still dramatically underrepresented on the federal bench.

And more than twenty five years after Judge Batts’ historic confirmation, it is unacceptable that there has only ever been one other black lesbian elevated to the federal bench. 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. That must change. 

Judge Batts lived an extraordinary life and leaves a remarkable legacy. 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.

New York