Charles Proctor Sifton

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Charles Proctor Sifton (March 18, 1935 – November 9, 2009) was a United States federal judge.

Born in New York, New York, Sifton received a B.A. from Harvard College in 1957 and an LL.B. from Columbia Law School in 1961. He was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Göttingen in Göttingen, Germany from 1957 to 1958. Sifton worked as an attorney in private practice in New York City in 1961-62 and as staff counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from 1962 to 1964. He returned to private practice from 1964 to 1966, and again from 1969 to 1977. From 1966 to 1969, Sifton served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

On August 16, 1977, President Jimmy Carter nominated Sifton to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York that had been vacated by John F. Dooling, Jr.. Sifton was confirmed by the United States Senate on October 12, 1977 and took office the same day.

During his more than 30 years on the bench, he issued thousands of decisions in both civil and criminal cases. A few of his most publicized cases are listed below:

  • In a 1982 opinion, Sifton held that the New York City firefighter eligibility test discriminated against female applicants. See Brenda Berkman, et al. v. The City of New York, CV-79-1813, 536 F. Supp. 177 (E.D.N.Y. 1982), aff’d Berkman v. City of New York, 705 F.2d 584 (2d Cir. 1983). The case resulted in the first female firefighters being permitted to join the NYFD.
  • In an 1987 case, Judge Sifton found for the Lubavitch congregation in their suit against the grandson of the late Rebbe Joseph I. Schneersohn to recover a collection of books from the Rebbe's library. See Agudas Chasidei Chabad v. Gourary, CV-85-2909, 650 F. Supp. 1463 (E.D.N.Y. 1987), aff’d 833 F.2d 431 (2d Cir. 1987). The Lubavitch community continue to celebrate the favorable decision in an annual holiday named "Hey Teves," meaning the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Teves, the Hebrew date on which the opinion was issued (corresponding to Jan. 6, 1987). [1]
  • In another well known case, in 1992, Sifton found illegal the United States' seizure of RU-486 abortion pills that a pregnant woman had bought in France. The Supreme Court reversed his decision, but the publicity helped build support for the drug’s U.S. approval in 2000. See Leona Benten v. David Kessler, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, CV-92-3161, 799 F. Supp. 281 (E.D.N.Y. 1992), order stayed by USCA No. 92-6170., aff’d, 505 U.S. 1084, 112 S.Ct. 2929 (1992).
  • In 2009, Sifton rejected an attempt to overturn the legislation that cleared the way for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and most other city elected officials to seek a third term.[2]

Sifton served as Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York from 1995 to 2000, assuming senior status on March 18, 2000.

Sifton died from sarcoidosis on the morning of November 9, 2009.

Judge Sifton’s first marriage was to Elisabeth Sifton, a prominent book editor and author who is the daughter of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. He is survived by his son Sam Sifton, the national news editor of The New York Times, by his wife, the artist Susan Rowland; two other sons, Toby and John; and three grandchildren.


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