Damon Keith, R.I.P.

Nitpicking, perhaps, but the obituary headline bugged me again today, the second day in a row I noticed it:

Damon Keith, Federal Judge Who Championed Civil Rights, Dies at 96

What bothers me is my impression of the connotation of champion” as a verb. My impression is of proactive support, which would cast Judge Keith as an activist judge — anathema to me. Judges are supposed to decide cases that come to them, not inciting cases or entertaining agendas.

The obituary itself continues that praise of putatively activist judging.

I’m not familiar with the Judge or his legacy outside of the obituary, but critical reading suggests something more benign than judicial activism: a black, Mississippi-based federal judge in an era of historic turmoil, doing his job as he saw his job, and by historic circumstance becoming very consequential.

It’s also possible that my impression of the connotation is idiosyncratic, as suggested here.

Activist or merely consequential, Rest in Peace, Judge Keith.

(Afterthought: A Judge may and should have the agenda of preserving or restoring judicial integrity.)

April 30, 2019


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