Samuel Der-Yeghiayan

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Samuel Der-Yeghiayan
Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
In office
July 15, 2003 – February 17, 2018
Appointed by George W. Bush
Preceded by Marvin E. Aspen
Succeeded by Vacant
Personal details
Born Samuel Der-Yeghiayan
(1952-02-16) February 16, 1952 (age 66)
Aleppo, Syria
Education Evangel University (B.A.)
Franklin Pierce Law Center (J.D.)

Samuel Der-Yeghiayan (born February 16, 1952) is a former United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Confirmed in 2003, he is noteworthy for being the first Armenian immigrant federal judge in the United States. He retired from active service in 2018.

Early life[edit]

Der-Yeghiayan was born in Aleppo, Syria to Armenian parents and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. He moved to the United States at age 19.[1]

Education and career[edit]

He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, in 1975, and his Juris Doctor from the Franklin Pierce Law Center (now known as the University of New Hampshire School of Law) in Concord, New Hampshire in 1978. He began his legal career as an Honor Law Graduate under the United States Attorney General's Honors Program. He served in various capacities with the Justice Department's Chicago District of Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), with jurisdiction over the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, including as a trial attorney from 1978 to 1982, district counsel from 1982 to 2000, and acting district director from 1986 to 1987.

For twenty consecutive years from 1981 to 2000, Der-Yeghiayan received Outstanding Performance Ratings as a U.S. Justice Department Attorney from different Attorneys General of the United States. In 1986, he received the Frank J. McGarr Award of the Federal Bar Association as the Outstanding Federal Government Attorney in Chicago. In 1998, he received the District Counsel of the Year Award from the Commissioner of the INS and the Attorney General of the United States.

Immigration and district court service[edit]

From 2000 to 2003, Der-Yeghiayan served as an immigration judge in the Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review. He was nominated by President George W. Bush on March 5, 2003, for the district court seat vacated by Marvin E. Aspen, and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on July 14, 2003. He received his judicial commission on July 15, 2003. He retired on February 17, 2018.

Notable cases[edit]

During his years on the federal bench, Der-Yeghiayan has presided over several high profile cases, including terrorism related cases. In October 2017, Der-Yeghiayan sentenced Abdella Ahmad Tounisi to a 15-year prison term, the statutory maximum, for seeking to join a terrorist group. (13 CR 328).

Wallace v. City of Chicago, 472 F. Supp.2d 942 (N.D. Ill. 2004) (holding that a constitutional claim brought under Section 1983 action for false arrest begins to run at the time of the arrest, not at the time that the charges against the defendant are dropped)(affirmed by the Seventh Circuit in Wallace v. City of Chicago, 440 F.3d 421 (7th Cir. 2006) and the Supreme Court of the United States in Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384 (2007)).

Gowder v. City of Chicago, 923 F. Supp.2d 1110 (N.D. Ill. 2012) (holding both that Section (b)(3)(iii) of the Chicago Firearm Ordinance was unconstitutionally void for vagueness and that it violated the plaintiff’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms).

United States v. Firishchak, 426 F. Supp.2d 780 (N.D. Ill. 2005) (finding that the defendant, who served as a Ukrainian Auxiliary Police Officer during the Nazi occupation in World War II, had made misrepresentations in his application for immigration to the United States, and revoking the defendant’s Certificate of Naturalization).

Life Center, Inc. v. City of Elgin, Ill., 993 F. Supp.2d 863 (N.D. Ill. 2013) (finding unconstitutional a specific ordinance of the City of Elgin that had effectively prevented Life Center and other religious organizations from providing ultrasound and other prenatal services to pregnant women free of cost)(after the Judge’s ruling, the case was settled and Life Center was able to offer such services).

Personal life[edit]

Judge Der-Yeghiayan met his wife, Becky, at Evangel University. They have been married over forty years and have two children and three grandchildren. They attend an Assemblies of God church.[2]


  1. ^ "Samuel Der-Yeghiayan to Speak at Franklin Pierce Commencement". New Hampshire Bar Association. May 20, 2005. Retrieved January 17, 2015. Born in Aleppo, Syria in 1952, Judge Der-Yeghiayan grew up in Beirut, Lebanon and immigrated to the United States when he was 19 years old. He earned a BA degree from Evangel University in Springfield, MO in 1975, majoring in political science. In 1978, he earned his JD degree from Franklin Pierce Law Center where he served on the Law Review Editorial Board.
  2. ^ "Evangel Profile: 2015 Commencement Speaker: The Honorable Samuel Der-Yeghiayan ('75)". Retrieved 2017-05-27.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Marvin E. Aspen
Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois