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The Sixth Circuit's Judge Damon J. Keith has served on the bench since 1967, and on the Sixth Circuit for four decades, but the 94-year-old jurist isn't exactly a household name. That may be changing soon, though.
A new documentary, "Walk With Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith" seeks to introduce Judge Keith to a wider audience, while exploring his work as a judge and a civil rights leader.
The Case for Keith
We don't want to imply that Judge Keith is currently unknown, of course. The Supreme Court case ruling that the government must obtain a warrant before wiretapping citizens is known as "the Keith case," for example. It stems from a ruling Judge Keith made early in his career, ordering President Nixon's attorney general to turn over transcripts obtained via warrantless wiretaps.
Judge Keith has made waves relatively recently as well. Last year, Keith penned a fervent dissent to a Sixth Circuit ruling upholding Ohio's restrictions on in-person and absentee voting, rules that were accused of disenfranchising minority voters. His dissent decried "the utter brutality of white supremacy in its efforts to disenfranchise persons of color," and included a long recitation of civil rights activists who had been murdered fighting for voting rights. Eleven pages long, that list surveyed civil rights martyrs from Reverend George Lee to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was "the most important voting rights dissent in recent history," according to some.
Beyond the Legal Opinions
"Walk With Me" tells a story much broader than Judge Keith's time on the bench, however. Born into segregation and raised in Detroit, Keith became an early civil rights activist. When he was studying law at Howard University, he worked as a janitor to help pay his way.
He has since dedicated much of his career to pursuing fairness, equality, and justice. When asked what advice he'd give to young lawyers, like his granddaughter, Keith once said, "I tell them ... they are walking on floors they did not have to scrub and they're going through doors they did not open. I want you to scrub floors so people who follow you ... can walk on them, and open doors that don't open for you ... We've got to leave a legacy."
The film is currently being screened across the country. It's showing in Cincinnati this weekend, as part of the 41st Cleveland International Film Festival.
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