Karen L. Henderson

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Karen LeCraft Henderson
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Assumed office
July 5, 1990
Appointed byGeorge H. W. Bush
Preceded byKen Starr
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina
In office
June 16, 1986 – July 11, 1990
Appointed byRonald Reagan
Preceded byWilliam Walter Wilkins
Succeeded byDennis Shedd
Personal details
Born (1944-07-11) July 11, 1944 (age 76)
Oberlin, Ohio
EducationDuke University (BA)
University of North Carolina School of Law (JD)

Karen LeCraft Henderson (born July 11, 1944) is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and a former United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina.

Early life, education, and career[edit]

Born and raised in Oberlin, Ohio, Henderson received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Duke University in 1966 and a Juris Doctor from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1969. Henderson then entered private practice in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. From 1973 to 1983, she was with the Office of the South Carolina Attorney General, ultimately in the position of Deputy Attorney General. In 1983, she returned to private practice as a member of the firm of Sinkler, Gibbs & Simons of Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina.[1]

Federal judicial service[edit]

On June 3, 1986, Henderson was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina vacated by Judge William Walter Wilkins.[2] She was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 13, 1986, and received her commission on June 16, 1986. Her service terminated on July 11, 1990, due to elevation to the District of Columbia Circuit.[1]

On May 8, 1990, President George H. W. Bush nominated Henderson to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that had been vacated by the resignation of Kenneth Starr to become Solicitor General of the United States.[3] The Senate confirmed Henderson on June 28, 1990 by unanimous consent, and she received her commission on July 5, 1990.[1]

Second Amendment[edit]

In Parker, et al. v. District of Columbia (2007) Henderson authored a dissent in which she wrote "the right of the people to keep and bear arms relates to those Militia whose continued vitality is required to safeguard the individual States."[4] She also wrote that "the Constitution, case law and applicable statutes all establish that the District is not a state within the meaning of the Second Amendment".[5]

National security[edit]

In Rasul v. Myers (2008), Henderson wrote for the majority when it found that British detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp could not sue the government under the Alien Tort Statute, the Geneva Conventions, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act for alleged torture, abuse, and denial of religious free expression.[6][7] The case was reportedly the first federal appeals court decision involving the treatment of terrorism suspects in the wake of the September 11 attacks.[8][9]

In March 2017, Henderson found that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act prevented an Ethiopian dissident living with asylum in the United States from suing the Ethiopian government for infecting his home computer with FinSpy spyware and then surveilling him in Maryland.[10][11]

In August 2018, Henderson wrote for the unanimous panel when it again rejected Guantanamo Bay detainee Moath Hamza Ahmed al Alawi's petition for habeas corpus, reasoned that the Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001 had not expired, that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 had further authorized detentions, and that the international law of war permitted detention of enemy combatants as long as "active combat" continued.[12][13]

Cases involving President Donald Trump[edit]

Judge Henderson ruled in favor of President Trump on at least two occasions in Russiagate-related proceedings.

In February 2020, Henderson joined the opinion of Circuit Judge Thomas B. Griffith when the majority held that the United States House Committee on the Judiciary could not enforce a subpoena upon President Trump's former White House Counsel, Don McGahn.[14] Henderson wrote a concurrence arguing that the House did not have standing to sue here, while Circuit Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote a dissent.[15]

The ruling was overturned by the full court in August 2020.[16]

In June 2020, Henderson joined the opinion of Circuit Judge Neomi Rao issuing a writ of Mandamus ordering a district court judge to dismiss the charges against Michael Flynn, who had twice pleaded guilty.[17] The ruling was overturned by the full court.[18] After hearing the case en banc, the appeals court on August 31, 2020, ruled 8–2 against issuing the writ of mandamus, with Rao and Henderson joining each other's dissents.[19]

In November 2019, she issued a dissent on the president's failed request to overturn a lawsuit in relation to the President's taxes.[20]


  1. ^ a b c "Henderson, Karen LeCraft - Federal Judicial Center". www.fjc.gov.
  2. ^ "Pres. Nom. 1140". 99th Cong. (1986).
  3. ^ "Pres. Nom. 1239". 101st Cong. (1990).
  4. ^ "D.C.'s Ban On Handguns In Homes Is Thrown Out". www.washingtonpost.com.
  5. ^ The Seat Congress Can't Offer.
  6. ^ Fassbender, B. (1 May 2008). "Can Victims Sue State Officials for Torture?: Reflections on Rasul v. Myers from the Perspective of International Law". Journal of International Criminal Justice. 6 (2): 347–369. doi:10.1093/jicj/mqn009.
  7. ^ Rasul v. Myers, 512 F. 3d 644 (D.C. Cir. 2008).
  8. ^ Denniston, Lyle (11 January 2008). "Detainees barred from challenging torture, abuse". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
  9. ^ Vicini, James (11 January 2008). "U.S. appeals court dismisses Guantanamo torture suit". Reuters. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
  10. ^ Note, Recent Case: D.C. Circuit Finds Ethiopia Immune in Hacking Suit, 131 Harv. L. Rev. 1179 (2018).
  11. ^ Doe v. Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 851 F.3d 7 (D.C. Cir. 2017).
  12. ^ Note, Recent Case: D.C. Circuit Holds the Government’s Authority Has Not Unraveled, 132 Harv. L. Rev. 1542 (2019).
  13. ^ Al-Alwi v. Trump, 901 F3d 294 (D.C. Cir. 2018).
  14. ^ "House Judiciary Committee v. McGahn" (PDF). www.cadc.uscourts.gov. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  15. ^ Savage, Charlie (29 February 2020). "Court Rules Congress Cannot Sue to Force Executive Branch Officials to Testify". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
  16. ^ https://www.law.com/2020/08/07/en-banc-dc-circuit-rules-for-houses-power-to-sue-over-don-mcgahn-subpoena/
  17. ^ https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/appeals-court-orders-judge-to-dismiss-criminal-case-against-michael-flynn/2020/06/24/7f2caba4-b0c1-11ea-8758-bfd1d045525a_story.html
  18. ^ https://www.businessinsider.com/michael-flynn-loses-washington-dc-circuit-court-of-appeals-2020-7
  19. ^ https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/appeals-court-michael-flynn/2020/08/31/24ce93f0-e0b1-11ea-b69b-64f7b0477ed4_story.html
  20. ^ https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/congress-can-seek-eight-years-of-trumps-tax-records-appeals-court-rules/2019/11/13/b4fc8002-fc07-11e9-8906-ab6b60de9124_story.html

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
William Walter Wilkins
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina
Succeeded by
Dennis Shedd
Preceded by
Ken Starr
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit