Ann Claire Williams
|Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit|
November 15, 1999
|Appointed by||Bill Clinton|
|Preceded by||Walter Cummings|
|Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois|
April 4, 1985 – November 15, 1999
|Appointed by||Ronald Reagan|
|Preceded by||Seat established|
|Succeeded by||Joan Lefkow|
August 16, 1949 |
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Alma mater||Wayne State University
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
University of Notre Dame
Early life and education
Williams was born in Detroit, Michigan. Before becoming a lawyer, she began her career as a music and third grade teacher in the inner city public schools of Detroit after graduating with a bachelor's degree from Wayne State University in Elementary Education and a master's degree in Guidance and Counseling from the University of Michigan while working full-time. She received her juris doctor from Notre Dame Law School. Williams is Catholic.
After law school, Williams’s worked as a law clerk with Judge Robert A. Sprecher of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She was one of the first two African-American law clerks to work at that court. She then worked as an Assistant United States Attorney in Chicago for nine years, trying major felony cases and appearing before the Seventh Circuit. She was the first African-American woman to serve as supervisor in that office and was promoted to deputy chief of the criminal receiving and appellate division. Ultimately, she became the first Chief of the Organized Drug Enforcement Task Force, responsible for organizing federal investigation and prosecution activities for a five-state region.
Federal judicial service
Williams was a U.S. District Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois from 1985 until 1999. President Reagan nominated her on March 13, 1985, to a newly created seat on the court, and she was confirmed by the Senate on April 3, 1985. Her confirmation made her the first-ever African-American female judge appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
On August 5, 1999, President Clinton nominated Williams to fill a vacancy on the Seventh Circuit caused by the retirement of Judge Walter J. Cummings, Jr. Williams was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in a voice vote on November 10, 1999, making her the first African-American judge on the Seventh Circuit.
Williams was mentioned by some media outlets as a possible choice for nomination to the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice David Souter in 2009 and to replace Justice John Paul Stevens in 2010.
Professional recognition and awards
Williams was awarded the 2008 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award by the American Bar Association. In 2010, Williams became a recipient of the 28th Annual Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award. It is awarded by the American Judicature Society to U.S. federal judges "whose careers have been exemplary, measured by their significant contributions to the administration of justice, the advancement of the rule of law, and the improvement of society as a whole."
She has received numerous other awards from schools and legal organizations for her contributions to the law and the legal community. In 2000, Williams received the Chicago Lawyer Person of the Year award, and in 2004, Crain’s magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times named her as one of Chicago’s 100 Most Influential and Powerful Women. In 2005, she received the Arabella Babb Mansfield Award from the National Association of Women Lawyers, the organization’s highest honor. In 2006, she received the Spirit of Excellence Award, the highest honor awarded by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. In 2007, Williams received awards from the BWLA and MLER organizations that she co-founded. That year, she was also inducted into the Cook County Bar Association’s Hall of Fame.
Other awards that Williams has received include the William H. Hastie Award from the National Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association’s Vanguard Award and Earl Burrus Dickerson Award, the Illinois Judicial Council Special Achievement Award, the Woman with Vision Award from the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, the Women Making History Award from the National Council of Negro Women, and the National Black Law Students Association Alumni Award. Williams has also received honorary degrees from the Universities of Notre Dame and Portland; Chicago-Kent and William Mitchell Colleges of Law; and St. Mary’s, Colby, and Lake Forest Colleges, as well as numerous awards from other universities and legal organizations.
In addition to her memberships in various bar groups, including the Chicago, Women’s, Cook County, Black Women Lawyers, Federal, and American Bar Associations, Williams also serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Notre Dame, the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, Equal Justice Works, and Just the Beginning Foundation. She is also a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
In an article in the Chicago Tribune on December 11, 1999, Williams declined to say whether she is a Republican or a Democrat, instead calling herself politically independent: "I've written on thousands of cases across the board, and I think it would be hard to type me," she said. "I don't think there is a type. I am not in Congress. We don't legislate in the courts." However, she also stated that she won't forget her roots or let her judicial robe "get in the way of my humanity".
Internationally, in 2006, Williams co-led a conference on constitutional law and law reform in Nairobi, Kenya, attended by over 125 Kenyan attorneys. Later that year, she was invited by the Chief Justice of Kenya as the first non-Kenyan judge to attend and address the Kenyan Judicial Colloquium, an annual four-day gathering of the Kenyan judiciary on issues such as mediation, case management, and judicial ethics. At the Chief Justice's invitation, Williams returned in 2007 and 2008 to present to the colloquium issues relating to judicial training around the world. During that visit, she also taught at the first Kenyan Women's Trial Advocacy Program for lawyers who represent victims of domestic violence. She returned in August 2008 to lead another women's trial advocacy training program for approximately 50 Kenyan lawyers and law students.
In August 2011, Williams traveled to Mombasa, Kenya, on the invitation of Kenya's new Chief Justice, Willy Mutunga, for the 8th Annual Kenya Judges Colloquium.
In 2007, she led a delegation in Liberia for Lawyers Without Borders, teaching trial advocacy skills to Liberian magistrate judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys. Also in 2007, Williams was invited to and attended meetings in the United States and Canada as one of 28 delegates of the Canada-United States Legal Exchange Program attended by judges and members of the United States Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of Canada and the American College of Trial Lawyers.
In 2002 and 2003, Williams led delegations to Ghana to train members of the Ghanaian judiciary in areas including judicial ethics, case management, and alternative dispute resolution. In 2004, she hosted in the United States a delegation from Ghana, which included the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana and other Ghanaian judges during their three-week study of the United States courts. In 2008 she trained center Ghanaian Judges at the new Judicial Training Center in collaboration with Fordham Law School and other organizations in the creation of the Ghana Judicial Training Center.
For several years, Williams has also served as a member of international training delegations that have traveled to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the Hague. On her multiple trips to the ICTR and ICTY, she has taught trial and appellate advocacy courses to prosecutors of persons accused of serious violations of human rights law committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
- Doyle, Leonard (May 2, 2009). "US Supreme Court set to have first Latina justice". Telegraph Online.
- "Obama considering another 7th Circuit judge for Supreme Court".
- 2008 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award.
- "Two Appellate Judges Selected as Joint Recipients of the 28th Annual Devitt Award".
- True to herself though she feels indebted to Black judges who paved the way, Ann Claire Williams is a trailblazer herself: She will be the 1st African-American Judge on Chicago's federal appeals court.
- Ann Claire Williams at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
- Appearances on C-SPAN
|New seat||Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
|Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit