Dorothy Wright Nelson

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Dorothy Nelson
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
In office
December 20, 1979 – January 1, 1995
Appointed by Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Seat established
Succeeded by Sidney Thomas
Personal details
Born (1928-09-30) September 30, 1928 (age 87)
San Pedro, California, U.S.
Political party NonPartisan
Alma mater University of California, Los Angeles
University of Southern California

Dorothy Wright Nelson (born September 20, 1928) is a United States federal judge.


Born in San Pedro, California,[1] Nelson received an A.B. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1950, a J.D. from University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law in 1953, and an LL.M. from the University of Southern California Law School in 1956. She was a research associate fellow, University of Southern California Law School from 1953 to 1956. She was in private practice in Los Angeles, California from 1954 to 1957. She was a member of the faculty of University of Southern California Law School from 1957 to 1980. She was an instructor from 1957 to 1958. She was an assistant professor from 1958 to 1961. She was an associate professor from 1961 to 1967. She was an associate dean from 1965 to 1967. She was an interim dean from 1967 to 1969. She was a professor from 1967 to 1980. She was a dean from 1969 to 1980. She was an adjunct professor of law, University of Southern California Law School from 1980 to the present.

Federal Court[edit]

Nelson is a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In 1973 there was discussion she might be nominated to the US Supreme Court in the news.[2] Nelson was nominated by President Jimmy Carter on September 28, 1979, to a new seat created by 92 Stat. 1629. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 19, 1979, and received her commission on December 20, 1979. She assumed senior status on January 1, 1995. She published an article in the South California Law Review.[3] She is the author of a book on Judicial Administration by the West Lawbook company, "Judicial Administration and the Administration of Justice." [4]

Personal life[edit]

She is an active member of the Bahá'í Faith and served in the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of United States for many years. She became a Bahá'í following the suggestion to explore the religion from Donald Barrett in 1954 along with about 70 others across a decade.[5][6] Barrett would go on to serve at the Bahá'í World Center in 1979.[7] She observers that the choices she made as a professor and dean were informed by the values she gathered from being a Bahá'í including mediation, affirmative action.

Dorothy was married to James F. Nelson (1927–2011), a longtime Los Angeles Municipal Court judge whose career included high-profile preliminary hearings involving Richard Ramirez, the serial killer known as the Night Stalker, and Cathy Evelyn Smith, who was charged in the death of comic John Belushi. She has two children, Frank, an immigration attorney, and Lorna, an addictions counselor, divorced from Tracy Smith.

She started and popularized mediation in US courts.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Barth, Ilene (7 January 1973). "If a seat opens: Will Nixon choose a woman for the Supreme Court?". The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska). p. 88. Retrieved February 5, 2014. 
  3. ^ Nelson, Dorothy W (1993–1994). "Introduction to the Effects of Gender in the Federal Courts: The Final Report of the Ninth Circuit Gender Bias Task Force". South California Law Review 67: 731–. Retrieved 2012-03-31. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Dorothy Wright Nelson (Oct 12, 2007). An interview with the Honorable Dorothy Nelson, Judge, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Video). H. Dale Hilton Living History Project of the Emerti Center at the University of Southern California. USC on YouTube. 
  6. ^ Dorothy Wright Nelson (October 21, 2007). Dorothy Nelson Oral History Interview (Television). Women Trailblazers in the Law collection of the American Bar Association. 
  7. ^ "Lawyer to Serve Baha'i Faith". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). Sep 22, 1979. p. 2. Retrieved June 30, 2014. 

Further research[edit]

Legal offices
New seat Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Succeeded by
Sidney Thomas