Congressional Record: May 15, 2003 (Extensions)
Page E960-E961                       



                         HON. JOHN CONYERS, JR.

                              of michigan

                    in the house of representatives

                        Wednesday, May 14, 2003

  Mr. CONYERS. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to remind America what we all 
owe to the Honorable Damon J. Keith, who has faithfully served on the 
Federal Bench for some 35 years. His giant legacy looms large on 
America's legal landscape. He is widely respected by his fellow judges, 
by the Bar and by informed citizens throughout the land, not only for 
his constitutional scholarship, but also for the courage of his 
convictions and his judicious compassion.
  Judge Keith has had a truly illustrious career. Above all, his 
decisions have protected the Bill of Rights from assaults by the 
Executive; and they have vindicated the Founding Fathers' wisdom in 
giving us an independent Judicial Branch. Like his namesake, the 
"Damon" of Greek mythology, Judge Keith's boundless love of the law 
and steadfast devotion to justice has won the respect of allies and 
adversaries alike.
  Judge Keith was appropriately born on the Fourth of July in 1924. He 
holds a law degree from Howard Law School and a masters degree in law 
from Wayne State University. Judge Keith's accomplishments and 
commitment have garnered awards too numerous to enumerate fully. I will 
cite just a few.
  Both the State of Michigan and the City of Detroit have repeatedly 
honored their native son. The Michigan Chronicle chose Judge Keith to 
represent the legal profession as one of Ten of "The Century's finest 
Michiganders." The Detroit Legal News recognized him as one of 
Michigan's 16 "Legal Legends of the Century." In recognition of his 
dedication to quality education for all, the Detroit Board of Education 
named the Damon J. Keith Elementary School in his honor. He was honored 
by the Detroit Urban League with its Edward J. Devitt Distinguished 
Service to Justice Award. (He was nominated for the Devitt Award by 
judges and attorneys throughout the country.)
  The national legal community has equally recognized his contributions 
to the rule of law and his devotion to the Constitution. In 1990 
President George Bush appointed him to the National Commission on the 
Bicentennial of the Constitution. Judge Keith's rejection of 
discrimination in any form earned him the Distinguished Public Service 
Award from the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith. The NAACP 
awarded Judge Keith its highest accolade, the Spingarn Medal (whose 
previous recipients include Rev. Martin Luther King, Justice Thurgood 
Marshall and General Colin Powell.) Almost 40 universities and colleges 
have conferred honorary degrees on Judge Keith.
  In 1997, The American Bar Association summed up why Judge Keith is 
universally held in such high esteem when it gave him its prestigious 
Thurgood Marshall Award:

       Judge Keith represents the best in the legal profession. 
     His work reflects incisive analysis of issues, principled 
     application of laws and the Constitution, passionate belief 
     in the court's role in protecting civil rights, a commitment 
     to community service and, most significantly, an independence 
     of mind to do what's right that is at the core of his view of 
     professional responsibility.

  In 2001, the ABA also conferred on Judge Keith its ABA Spirit of 
Excellence Award.
  This brief recital illustrates Judge Damon Keith's extraordinary 
standing within the Bar. In order for you to understand how he has 
earned that reputation, however, it is helpful to recall several of his 
most noteworthy opinions.

               The "Pontiac School Desegregation Case"

  This weekend, many of us in Detroit will be celebrating the 
anniversary of the Supreme Court's historic opinion in Brown v. Board 
of Education, unquestionably one of the greatest of that court's 
decision in our history. As you well know, however, it took decades of 
determined labor by many dedicated people to actually implement the 
proud promise of Brown. They were led, in the North as in the South, by 
brave federal judges who simply believed that the Constitution, as 
interpreted by the Supreme Court, must be enforced.
  Judge Keith's opinion in the Pontiac school desegregation case will 
always be remembered by those in the struggle as a profile in courage. 
Judge Keith was not eager to reject the benefits of neighborhood school 
assignments, nor unmindful of the very strong community feelings. 
Still, he stayed true to his oath to uphold the Constitution. He 
enforced the necessary remedies of past de jure school segregation.

                           The "Keith Case"

  Perhaps Judge Keith's most famous decision is aptly now known among 
constitutional scholars as the "Keith case." Prior to 1970, every 
modern President had claimed "inherent Executive power" to conduct 
electronic surveillance in "national security" cases without the 
judicial warrant required in criminal cases by the Fourth Amendment to 
the Constitution. Then Attorney General John Mitchell, on behalf of 
President Richard Nixon sought to wiretap several alleged "domestic" 
terrorists without warrants, on the ground that it was a national 
security matter. Judge Keith rejected this claim of the Sovereign's 
inherent power to avoid the safeguard of the Fourth Amendment. He 
ordered the government to produce the wiretap transcripts. When the 
Attorney General appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court 
unanimously affirmed Judge Keith.
  The Keith decision not only marked a watershed in civil liberties 
protection for Americans. It also led directly to the current statutory 
restriction on the Government's electronic snooping in national 
security cases. The Supreme Court had limited its agreement with Judge 
Keith that judicial warrants were required in cases involving alleged 
domestic security threats. The Court left open the question of whether 
judicial warrants also were required in the case of suspected foreign 
threats to national security. Nevertheless, the Nixon Administration 
was afraid to risk a subsequent Supreme Court ruling that they were 
required in that area, as well. Therefore, President Nixon reluctantly 
agreed to sign the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act creating a 
special "FISA Court" to hear applications for warrants in foreign 
national security cases.

                          The "Haddad Case"

  Some thirty years later, history has come full circle. Once again, an 
overreaching Attorney General is undermining the Bill of Rights

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on many fronts, ranging from secret, indefinite detention without 
charges and denial of counsel to ever-expanding efforts to spy on 
persons for whom no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity has been 
established. The Attorney General tells us, in essence, that Americans 
must choose between the liberties that have made our country great and 
a superficial sense of security. He is wrong.
  In the post 9-11 world, millions of Americans are deeply concerned 
about this current struggle between civil liberty claims and Government 
claims of national security. The Government's intense efforts to weaken 
the FISA law, that was birthed by the Keith case, have been a 
centerpiece of that debate. But the FISA Court aftermath of Judge 
Keith's 1970 opinion in the Keith case is not the only way in which he 
has left his indelible mark on the current controversy.
  One of the starkest examples of this Attorney General's disdain for 
the Bill of Rights came in the recent Haddad case. In a strongly 
worded, landmark opinion, Judge Keith, speaking for the United States 
Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, flatly rejected the Attorney General's 
claim that it could hold deportation proceedings against Rabih Haddad 
in secret, beyond the scrutiny of press and public. Once against Judge 
Keith's deeply-rooted concern for the rule of law was offended. He 
offered a stern rebuke:

       Today, the Executive Branch seeks to take this safeguard 
     away from the public by placing its actions beyond public 
     scrutiny * * * The Executive Branch seeks to uproot people's 
     lives outside the public eye and behind a closed door.

  Then, with characteristically concise eloquence, Judge Keith reminded 
the Department of Justice, in words headlined around the world, that 
"Democracies die behind closed doors."
  When he is not crafting judicial thunderbolts from the bench, Judge 
Keith and his physician wife Rachel Boone Keith, delight in their three 
daughters, Gildea, Debbie and Cecile, and in their two granddaughters, 
Nia and Camara. All those who know Damon Keith delight in him.
  Mr. Speaker, like so many others whose lives he has touched, I am 
proud to call Damon Keith a mentor, a friend, and an inspiration. He is 
indeed a national treasure.