Ann Claire Williams

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Ann Claire Williams
Ann Claire Williams Circuit Judge.jpg
Senior Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
In office
June 5, 2017 – January 16, 2018
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
In office
November 15, 1999 – June 5, 2017
Appointed byBill Clinton
Preceded byWalter J. Cummings Jr.
Succeeded byAmy J. St. Eve
Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
In office
April 4, 1985 – November 17, 1999
Appointed byRonald Reagan
Preceded bySeat established by 98 Stat. 333
Succeeded byJoan Lefkow
Personal details
Born (1949-08-16) August 16, 1949 (age 69)
Detroit, Michigan
EducationWayne State University (B.S.)
University of Michigan (M.A.)
Notre Dame Law School (J.D.)

Ann Claire Williams (born August 16, 1949) is a retired United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and a former United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. She is currently Of Counsel at Jones Day where she leads the law firm's efforts in advancing the rule of law in Africa, and to their leading trial and appellate practices.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Williams was born in Detroit, Michigan to Dorothy and Joshua, who both became college educated Detroit Public Schools teachers. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Wayne State University in Elementary Education and a Master of Arts in Guidance and Counseling from the University of Michigan. A lifelong educator and public servant, Judge Williams taught inner city Detroit Public Schools students before attending law school. She received her Juris Doctor from Notre Dame Law School.[2]

Professional career[edit]

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, female 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 woman of color to serve as supervisor in that office and was promoted to Deputy Chief and Chief of the Criminal Division. Ultimately, she became the first Chief of the Organized Drug Enforcement Task Force in 1983, responsible for organizing federal investigation and prosecution activities for a five-state region. In 1979, Williams began serving as an adjunct professor and lecturer at Northwestern University School of Law and at John Marshall Law School.[2] Later, as a judge, she continued teaching trial advocacy at Chicago area law schools and Harvard Law School. Throughout her career, she has taught in more than 150 trial advocacy and deposition programs with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) in the United States and Europe.

Committed to public interest work, Judge Williams has led a number of local and national efforts to expand the pipeline for minorities and women. These efforts include being the founder of Just the Beginning - A Pipeline Organization, which creates programs for students of color and other underrepresented groups from middle school through law school to inspire and equip them to pursue legal and judicial careers. She also co-founded the Black Women Lawyers' Association of Chicago and Minority Legal Education Resources, Inc., an organization that has helped approximately 4,000 lawyers pass the Illinois bar. She continues work in these important areas.

Federal judicial service[edit]

Williams was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois from 1985 until 1999. President Ronald 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. She received her commission on April 4, 1985. Her confirmation made her the first woman judge of color appointed to serve on a district court in the three-state Seventh Circuit. Her service terminated on November 17, 1999, due to elevation to the Seventh Circuit.[2]

On August 5, 1999, President Bill Clinton nominated Williams to fill a vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for 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 judge of color on the Seventh Circuit and the third woman of color to serve on any United States Court of Appeals. She received her commission on November 15, 1999.[2] She assumed senior status on June 5, 2017, and retired on January 16, 2018.

In 2007, Judge Williams dissented when the circuit held that failing to report to jail is itself a violent felony.[3] 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[4] and to replace Justice John Paul Stevens in 2010.[5]

Throughout her years of federal service, Judge Williams devoted countless hours to judicial, local, national, and international communities. In addition to training new federal district court judges for many years at the Federal Judicial Center, she was the first woman of color appointed to three significant positions in the federal judiciary by Chief Justices of the United States Supreme Court. Two appointments related to the Judicial Conference of the United States, the national policy-making body for the federal courts: Chair of the Court Administration and Case Management (CACM) Committee and member of the Judicial Branch Committee. She was also appointed to the Supreme Court Fellows Program Commission. Serving as Treasurer and President of the Federal Judges' Association, she was the first judge of color to become an officer of that organization which represents more than 1,100 federal judges and works to preserve the independence of the federal judiciary.[1]

International contributions[edit]

Internationally, Judge Williams has devoted herself to training judges and lawyers worldwide, particularly in Africa. Since 2001, Judge Williams has led a number of international delegations, teaching trial and appellate advocacy at the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and travelling to Kenya, Ghana, Indonesia, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda where she trained judges and lawyers on such topics as domestic and gender violence, human and wildlife trafficking, judicial ethics and opinion writing, civil and criminal case management, alternative dispute resolution, and trial and appellate advocacy in collaboration with Lawyers Without Borders, the U.S. Departments of Justice and State, the Virtue Foundation, National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA), Fordham Law School, and the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School.

In 2006, Williams 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 six times to present on various topics at the annual judicial colloquium.

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.

Professional recognition and awards[edit]

Williams was awarded the 2008 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award by the American Bar Association.[6] 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."[7] She is the only woman judge of color who has received the Devitt Award.

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. She has also been named as one of Newsweek Daily Beast's 150 Fearless Women in the World. 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 and the Gertrude E. Rush Award from the National Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association's Vanguard Award, John Paul Stevens 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, the Leadership Institute for Women of Color Attorneys, Inc.'s Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award, Chicago Inn of Court's Joel M. Flaum Award, the Association of Corporate Counsel Chicago Chapter's Thurgood Marshall Award, 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 Carnegie Corporation of New York, the University of Notre Dame, the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, and Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. In addition, she serves on the Board of Directors of Equal Justice Works and the Judicial Advisory Board of Just the Beginning - A Pipeline Organization. She is also a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

Political views[edit]

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."[8] However, she also stated that she won't forget her roots or let her judicial robe "get in the way of my humanity".[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Judge Ann Claire Williams joins Jones Day". Retrieved 2018-03-27.
  2. ^ a b c d "Williams, Ann Claire - Federal Judicial Center".
  3. ^ "Recent Case: Seventh Circuit Holds That Convictions for Failing to Report to Jail Constitute Violent Felonies Under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)" (PDF). Harvard Law Review. 120: 2012. 2007. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  4. ^ Doyle, Leonard (May 2, 2009). "US Supreme Court set to have first Latina justice". Telegraph Online.
  5. ^ "Obama considering another 7th Circuit judge for Supreme Court".
  6. ^ 2008 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award.
  7. ^ "Two Appellate Judges Selected as Joint Recipients of the 28th Annual Devitt Award". Archived from the original on December 9, 2010.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Seat established by 98 Stat. 333
Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
Succeeded by
Joan Lefkow
Preceded by
Walter J. Cummings Jr.
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Succeeded by
Amy J. St. Eve