Karen L. Henderson

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Karen L. 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 77)
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]


In October 2017, Henderson dissented in the en banc-stage of Azar v. Garza, arguing that an undocumented immigrant is not a "person" under the United States Constitution and so does not have rights under the Due Process Clause.[14]: 1815 

Cases involving then-President Donald Trump[edit]

In November 2019, Henderson indicated she wanted to revist a 3-panel ruling allowing Congress to access Trump's tax records. The DC Circuit rejected her view by an 8 - 3 vote. She was the only judge to dissent who was not appointed by Trump.[15]

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.[16] Henderson wrote a concurrence arguing that the House did not have standing to sue here, while Circuit Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote a dissent.[17] The full D.C. Circuit rejected this position on August 8, 2020.[18]

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.[19]

Henderson's ruling was subsequently overturned by the full court on August 3, 2020.[20] 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.[21]

On November 30, 2021, Henderson authored a unanimous ruling requiring the Justice Department to hand over more of the Mueller report, citing the Freedom of Information Act.[22][23]

Criticism of hiring practices[edit]

On May 16, 2022, the Washington Post published an article reporting that Henderson "hires only men among the three or four people she selects each year for clerkships." Specifically, the article stated that of "more than 70 clerks" Henderson hired since 1990, all but one were men. Henderson responded in a statement, "I give equal treatment and consideration to all applicants and hire law clerks based only on their credentials. To the extent any contrary impression exists, I regret that such impression exists and I will use my best efforts to address it."[24]


  1. ^ a b c "Henderson, Karen LeCraft - Federal Judicial Center". www.fjc.gov.
  2. ^ "Pres. Nom. 1140". 99th Cong. (1986). 13 June 1986.
  3. ^ "Pres. Nom. 1239". 101st Cong. (1990). 29 June 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. ^ Note, Recent Case: En Banc D.C. Circuit Upholds Order Requiring HHS to Allow an Undocumented Minor to Have an Abortion, 131 Harv. L. Rev. 1812 (2018).
  15. ^ "Trump's tax records can be sought by Congress, appeals court orders - The Washington Post". The Washington Post.
  16. ^ "House Judiciary Committee v. McGahn" (PDF). www.cadc.uscourts.gov. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "En Banc DC Circuit Rules for House's Power to Sue Over Don McGahn Subpoena | Law.com".
  19. ^ "Appeals court orders judge to dismiss Michael Flynn case - The Washington Post". The Washington Post.
  20. ^ "A key federal appeals court will reexamine case on Michael Flynn's guilty plea". Business Insider.
  21. ^ "Michael Flynn case does not have to be immediately dismissed, appeals court rules - The Washington Post". The Washington Post.
  22. ^ "Appeals court orders release of more from Mueller report". MSN. November 30, 2021. Retrieved December 5, 2021.
  24. ^ "Judges accused of sex discrimination, bullying, internal survey shows - The Washington Post". The Washington Post.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by Judge of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina
Succeeded by
Preceded by Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit