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The Honorable Deborah A. Batts

U.S. District Court Judge Deborah A. Batts was born on April 13, 1947 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She earned her B.A. degree in government from Radcliffe College in 1969 and attended Harvard Law School, where she earned her J.D. degree in 1972. Batts began her legal career clerking for Judge Lawrence W. Pierce, a U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York. The next year, Batts became an associate in New York City at the corporate law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore.

In 1979, Batts became the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in the Criminal Division. She worked for the district until 1984 when she joined the faculty at the Fordham University School of Law. Batts was the first African American member of the faculty and later became a tenured Associate Professor of Law.

In 1990, Batts became a commissioner on the New York Law Review Commission. That same year, she served as Special Associate Counsel to the Department of Investigation of the City of New York. In 1994, Batts was nominated by President Clinton as a U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York. After her confirmation by the United States Senate, she was sworn into the office.

As a federal judge, Batts has overseen a variety of high-profile cases and hearings. In 1999, she oversaw the indictment of Cheng Yong Wang and Xingqi Fu, charged with attempting to sell the organs of executed Chinese prisoners. Batts granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the indictment. In 2001, Batts wrote an Opinion resolving the issues of the sentencing hearing of al-Qaeda co-founder Mamdouh Mahmud Salim for the stabbing of a prison guard while Salim awaited trial in the case of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings. Batts was also the judge in a widely publicized 2006 case against EPA Chief Christine Todd Whitman. Whitman was charged for her failure to adequately warn New Yorkers of the health risks involved in returning to their homes after the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Batts is an active member of 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. In 1998, she received an honorary degree from the City University of New York School of Law.

Batts passed away on February 3, 2020.

Batts was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 15, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.239

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/15/2007 |and| 9/20/2007

Last Name

Batts

Maker Category
Middle Name

A.

Schools

Philadelphia High School for Girls

St Rose Of Lima Elem School

Radcliffe College

Harvard Law School

St. Carthage School

First Name

Deborah

Birth City, State, Country

Philadelphia

HM ID

BAT08

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Pennsylvania

Favorite Vacation Destination

Disney World

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

4/13/1947

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Sushi

Death Date

2/3/2020

Short Description

Federal district court judge The Honorable Deborah A. Batts (1947 - 2020) served as a U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York. She was the first openly gay federal judge.

Employment

U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District Court of New York

Fordham University School of Law

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

Justice Lawrence W. Pierce

Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP

National Institute for Trial Advocacy

Favorite Color

Red

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Deborah A. Batts' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls her maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts talks about how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her mother's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls her parents' marriage

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her paternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her father's military service

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers her home life

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Deborah Batts talks about her sister, Mercedes Ellington

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Deborah Batts remembers celebrating the holidays

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Deborah Batts describes her mother's cooking, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Deborah Batts describes her mother's cooking, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Deborah Batts remembers her birthday celebrations

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Deborah Batts describes her relationship with her sisters

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Deborah Batts describes her home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Deborah Batts recalls her community in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes the sights and smells of her childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls the music of her childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls learning to dance with her sister, Mercedes Ellington

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her early education

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts talks about her educational experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls her academic interests

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers her early aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers the Philadelphia High School for Girls

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her relationship with the Catholic church

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls her discontentment with the Catholic church

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts talks about the racial discrimination in the Catholic church

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls her experiences at the Philadelphia High School for Girls

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers her interest in science

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts talks about the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her decision to attend Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls her reservations about Radcliffe College

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers her arrival at Radcliffe College

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers her peers at Radcliffe College

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls studying government at Radcliffe College

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls obtaining a clerkship with Lawrence W. Pierce

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls her role in the student government

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers applying to Harvard Law School

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls her peers at Harvard Law School

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts talks about her activities at Radcliffe College

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers meeting her first husband

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls her first year at Harvard Law School

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls studying under Derrick A. Bell, Jr.

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers the Harvard Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers the black women at Harvard Law School

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls her experiences at Cravath, Swaine and Moore, LLP

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes law firm of Cravath, Swaine and Moore LLP

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts reflects upon her clerkship with Lawrence W. Pierce, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts reflects upon her clerkship with Lawrence W. Pierce, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls serving as an assistant U.S. attorney

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers her transition to academia

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls teaching at the Fordham University School of Law in New York City

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts narrates her photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers her judicial appointment, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers her judicial appointment, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls her judicial confirmation hearings

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts talks about being called a judicial activist

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her role as a federal judge

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts talks about federal sentencing guidelines

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her judicial deliberation process

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes the impact of her sexual orientation on her career

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her innovations in jury selection

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts talks about the importance of jury duty

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her judicial case load

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers her high profile cases

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes the role of the district courts

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers a lesson from her father

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls the New York State Law Revision Commission

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts recalls the investigation of Mayor David N. Dinkins

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her human rights work in Ghana

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her women's rights initiative in Ghana

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her portrait at Harvard Law School, pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her portrait at Harvard Law School, pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts talks about the impact of her portrait on law students

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her hopes for the judiciary

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts talks about her organizational involvement

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her role in the Federal Bar Council American Inn of Court

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts describes her role at the City University of New York School of Law

Tape: 10 Story: 9 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts reflects upon her career

Tape: 10 Story: 10 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts reflects upon her life

Tape: 10 Story: 11 - The Honorable Deborah A. Batts reflects upon her legacy

DASession

2$2

DATape

8$8

DAStory

1$2

DATitle
The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers her judicial appointment, pt. 1
The Honorable Deborah A. Batts remembers her judicial appointment, pt. 2
Transcript
We were discussing the adjunct professors at, at Fordham [Fordham University School of Law, New York, New York] and one that I was really in awe of was George Bundy Smith who eventually became a judge on the Court of Appeals, New York's Court of Appeals [New York Court of Appeals], which is the highest state court. Another African American adjunct professor was Cornelius Blackshear who was a federal bankruptcy judge. And in terms of the full-time faculty, before I left Fordham to go on the bench, Fordham had hired two wonderful and very different professors. One was Professor Terry Smith and one was Professor Nick Johnson [Nicholas Johnson]. And since that time, Fordham has hired and tenured many professors of color, not only African American but Latino as well.$$How did you become a judge?$$This is probably not the normal path to becoming a judge. I was very happy teaching at Fordham and enjoying the camaraderie and collegiality of my fellow professors. And one day I got a telephone call from someone who introduced themselves and said that they were on Senator Moynihan's [Daniel Patrick Moynihan] judicial screening panel. And I thought that it was one of my fellow professors playing a joke. So I was trying to figure out whose voice was this, you know, and I assume, I assumed that they had disguised it, and I, I just couldn't, couldn't get it. So then I started listening to what the person was saying. And one of the, he said that, "You have come highly recommended, that many people who have worked with you, you know, have put your name forward. And so have you ever thought of being a judge?" And I, I, I quipped that well, you understand as a professor that what we teach essentially are judicial opinions. Many of them are circuit court or supreme court opinions but one of the things that I always regret is that there doesn't seem to be enough factual information or background before getting into a discussion of the law. And so I would say to myself and sometimes to my students, that I, you know, "If I were a judge I could write a better opinion than that," but that's the only context in which it, it, you know, it had crossed my mind. And then he said, "Well would you consider it and may we send you an application?" And the next day I got a FedEx-ed application, and so I realized this may not be the joke that I thought it was. So I filled it out. I was interviewed by the committee. My name was one of several that they put forward to Senator Moynihan. I had the opportunity to go down to Washington [D.C.] and meet with Senator Moynihan. And I recall getting into a very lively discussion about the Westway project, the highway, and, you know, it got somewhat animated. And Senator Moynihan was saying, "Now listen Batts [HistoryMaker Deborah A. Batts]," and I was saying, "But this and that," and then in the middle, he said, "I think that you'd make a fine federal judge." And so then he put my name forward to then President Bush, forty-one [President George Herbert Walker Bush], and I started through the process with his [U.S.] Department of Justice being interviewed.$I went down to be interviewed by his justice department [U.S. Department of Justice] a lot. I probably saw everyone in the group who was involved. I, I know for instance that I saw--one of the people who interviewed me was John Roberts who is now the chief justice of the [U.S.] Supreme Court. Another person is currently I think a dean at Pepperdine [Pepperdine University, Malibu, California]. He was the investigator for the Clinton [President William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton], I'm having trouble remembering his name, it's, I should remember it. He was, he is well known and hopefully his name will come to me, but he interviewed me as well and other people, and I had very enjoyable meetings or discussions with everybody that I met. And then when I went at, when it was over I would, I would hear nothing. And so Senator Moynihan [Daniel Patrick Moynihan] on my behalf sought, you know, to see well, what's going on here. And I think the response that he was given, which was then conveyed to me, is that, "We think that Professor Batts [HistoryMaker Deborah A. Batts] is a very intelligent, very nice person but her idea of what a judge should be is not our idea of what a judge should be." So the candidacy didn't go anywhere during that Bush's [President George Herbert Walker Bush] administration. And then when President Clinton came, Senator Moynihan dutifully resubmitted my name. This time I went down to meet with the Department of Justice of President Clinton. And they were extremely supportive and helpful. And I met with them several times as well but in this instance, it was because they wanted to make sure that I would feel very comfortable during my confirmation hearings in the [U.S.] Senate, and so they, you know, even helped to vet me as the expression was, to prepare me for these things. And I'm eternally grateful to them for, for their assistance. And it must have worked because I'm on the bench. The interesting thing is that at the Senate confirmation hearing, the only senator who showed up was Howard Metzenbaum from Ohio and he asked very, very softball questions. And I think perhaps the hardest question he asked me is, "Why would you want to leave your, being a professor to become a judge when, you know, it'll be so much harder in terms of work?" And, and I, I believe I responded to him, "My, my colleagues would be very interested to know that, that you think that being a judge requires more work than being a professor." And then we just went on from there. And I was nominated, I was confirmed, the, the senate judiciary committee [U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary] passed me and then it went on to the full Sent- Senate. I was confirmed in May of 1994 and I came on the bench in June of 1994. In fact, the day I was inducted or--was the day, was a day in Gay Pride Week in New York [New York].