West Virginia Record

Friday, April 10, 2020

Late federal judge's estate provides $100,000 to WVSU scholarship fund

Attorneys & Judges

By Kyla Asbury | Dec 26, 2019


DUNBAR – The estate of a federal appeals court judge who graduated from West Virginia State University provided $100,000 to a scholarship fund established in his honor at the university.

Damon J. Keith was a federal circuit judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit from 1977 until his death in April at the age of 96.

Before that, Keith was a federal district judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. He was a 1946 graduate of WVSU.

WVSU President Anthony Jenkins | http://www.wvstateu.edu/About/Administration/Office-of-the-Prsident.aspx

Cecile Keith Brown, Keith's daughter, said her father frequently said he didn't know what he would've done if he hadn't gone to WVSU.

"This institution and its then-president, John W. Davis, played a critical role in the formation of dad’s success," Brown said in a press release. "It is with gratitude that dad elected to make a gift to the Damon J. Keith Scholarship Fund in his will."

WVSU President Anthony Jenkins said the scholarship fund is a huge opportunity for future students.

"Judge Keith really helped shape the moral compass of our nation," Jenkins said in an interview with The West Virginia Record. "He's even the only federal judge to have a Supreme Court case named in his honor – the Keith case – which was attached to the actual Nixon decision."

Jenkins said Keith's scholarship is for people who aspire to be better – those who want to do better and be better and are committed to having an impact and changing any environment they enter.

"The student (who applies for this scholarship) must have represented and have a portfolio that shows their contributions to humankind and in their communities," Jenkins said. "It's a way to help our students meet that financial gap so many young people are facing in higher education today. Judge Keith knew that and he wanted to do his part in making sure to help students who had all the potential and academic scholarships but didn't have the financial support they needed. He was committed to helping close that gap."

Jenkins said he hopes to see more people like Keith who give back to institutions in helping that next generation of students deal with the financial challenges that many deal with.

"If we continue to see more people do that and young people understand the value of paying it forward, we will continue to make our world a better place," Jenkins said.

Keith is most notable for his decision in United States v. Sinclair, where he ruled that former President Richard Nixon and the federal government were prohibited from engaging in warrantless wiretapping in violation of the Fourth Amendment. That case went on to the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed Keith's ruling.

As a federal appeals court judge, Keith was involved in the 2002 case Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft, where he, along with two other judges, found that the Creppy Directive, named after Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy, was unconstitutional.

In that case, the government had decided to close all deportation hearings deemed "special interest" to the public and press, which the panel of judges said was unlawful. Keith was noted as saying that "Democracies die behind closed doors."

The endowed scholarship fund established in Keith’s honor is designed for Detroit-area public school students who demonstrate academic achievement, as well as a commitment to leadership and service to humanity.

At the university, Keith Scholars must continuously strive for academic excellence by maintaining a minimum 3.25-grade point average while making satisfactory progress towards degree completion.

WVSU also has a residence hall named after Keith, called the Judge Damon J. Keith Scholars Hall. It was built in 2013.

Keith also graduated from Howard University Law School in 1949 and Wayne State University Law School in 1956. He also served in the U.S. Army from 1943 until 1946.

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Organizations in this Story

West Virginia State UniversityU.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit