Robert Francis Peckham

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Robert Francis Peckham (November 3, 1920 – February 16, 1993) was a United States federal judge.

Born in San Francisco, California, Peckham attended Yale University and received an A.B. from Stanford University in 1941 and an LL.B. from Stanford Law School in 1945. He was in private practice in Palo Alto and Sunnyvale, California from 1946 to 1948. He was an assistant U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of California from 1948 to 1953. He was a Chief assistant, Criminal Division from 1952 to 1953. He was in private practice in Palo Alto and Sunnyvale, California from 1953 to 1959. He was a judge on the Superior Court, Santa Clara County, California from 1959 to 1966. He was a Presiding judge from 1961 to 1963 and from 1965 to 1966.

Peckham was a federal judge on the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Peckham was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 9, 1966, to a new seat created by 80 Stat. 75. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on October 20, 1966, and received his commission on November 3, 1966. He served as chief judge from 1976-1988. He assumed senior status on November 11, 1988. Peckham served in that capacity until his death. Peckham presided over a number of high-publicity cases, including the desegregation of the San Francisco Police Department and the use of I.Q. testing in California schools. He died in San Francisco, California.

Notable rulings[edit]

Peckham was the presiding judge for a lawsuit filed by minorities and women that charged the San Francisco Police Department with discrimination in hiring. In ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in 1979, he ordered the department to hire 50 percent minority applicants and 20 percent women for the next 10 years. He extended the order a decade later after expressing "disappointment and sadness" at the department's progress. He also issued an order in 1985 setting ground rules for the desegregation of the San Jose Unified School District. In a suit by a group of black parents against the California school system, he ruled in 1979 that I.Q. tests had a built-in bias against blacks. He prohibited their use statewide because he said they improperly classified some blacks as retarded. He broadened this order in 1986 to forbid use of the tests to identify blacks as being "learning disabled" or to assess their learning disabilities. He withdrew the 1986 order in September 1992 after another group of black parents sued to allow their children to be given I.Q. tests to evaluate learning disabilities. He said further hearings were needed to decide whether a renewed ban was required to keep blacks from being misplaced in classes for the retarded.[1]

He also presided over the federal criminal prosecution of Larry Layton, a former member of the People's Temple cult, who was convicted of aiding and abetting in the murder of U.S. Representative Leo J. Ryan at a jungle airstrip in Guyana in November 1978. Hours after Mr. Ryan and four others were shot to death at an airstrip near Jonestown, which was the headquarters of the cult, the cult's leader, the Rev. Jim Jones, and 912 of his followers died by poison and gunfire in mass killings and suicides. Peckham sentenced Layton to life in prison, as well as to three concurrent terms of 15 years each in related charges.[2]


Legal offices
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California
Succeeded by
W. James Ware