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Ann Claire Williams

Ann Claire Williams

United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Chicago, Illinois

Born: Detroit, Michigan-August 16, 1949.
Education: Wayne State University (B.A. 1970); University of Michigan (M.A. 1972); Notre Dame University Law School (J.D. 1975).

With her appointment by President Ronald Reagan, at the age of 35, Judge Williams became one of the youngest judges ever appointed to an Article III federal judgeship. At that time, she was the first African American woman appointed to the district court in Illinois and in the Seventh Circuit.

In August 1999, Judge Williams was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit by President William Jefferson Clinton and was confirmed on November 10, 1999. She became the first African American ever appointed to the Circuit and the third African American woman to serve on any federal appeals court.

In May 1999, Judge Williams became president of the Federal Judges Association (FJA), after serving for two years as president-elect and four years as treasurer. She served for a two-year term as president and was the first African American to be elected to that position. The FJA, founded by the late Judge Hubert Will, has a membership of almost 900 federal district and appeals court judges and is dedicated to preserving the independence of the federal judiciary. She worked diligently with members of Congress, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, and her board to insure that federal judges were adequately compensated and to address other issues that threatened judicial independence. She continues to serve on the Executive Committee of the FJA.

Chief Justice Rehnquist appointed her Chair of the Court Administration and Case Management Committee (CACM) of the Judicial Conference of the United States in 1993 where she was responsible for making policy recommendations in this area for the federal judiciary. In addition to addressing case management issues for the appellate and district courts and governance issues for all court offices, the CACM also focuses on such diverse matters as fees, juries, court reporters and interpreters, and attorney admissions. She served as a member of CACM from 1990 to 1997.

In 2005, Chief Justice Rehnquist appointed Williams to a three-year term on the Supreme Court Fellows Program Commission. Supreme Court Fellows are selected through a competitive application process for one-year assignments to the Supreme Court, the Federal Judicial Center, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, and the United States Sentencing Commission.

Judge Williams has served as an instructor in numerous educational and training programs for judges, practicing attorneys, and law students. From 1990 to 1997, she taught case management skills to each new class of federal district court judges at the Federal Judicial Center. She continues to teach trial advocacy with the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA), the country's premier trial advocacy program, in law schools and other CLE courses, and she was appointed to the NITA Board of Directors in 1996. She has also taught trial advocacy courses at Harvard, Northwestern and other Chicago area law schools and has judged moot court competitions across the country, including at Harvard, Emory University and the University of Michigan.

Judge Williams's commitment to education and training extends beyond the United States. In 2002 and again in 2003, she led delegations to Ghana to train members of the Ghanaian judiciary in areas including judicial ethics, case management, and alternative dispute resolution. She has been influential in developing an ongoing relationship between the Ghanaian and United States judiciaries as Ghana works to strengthen its judicial system, and she helped to host the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana and other Ghanaian judges during their three-week study of the United States courts in 2004. Most recently, she served as a member of an international delegation that traveled to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania and the Tribunal for Yugoslavia at the Hague. There, she taught trial and appellate advocacy courses to prosecutors of persons accused of serious violations of human rights law committed in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

Judge Williams has long been committed to public service and minority concerns. Troubled by the low bar passage rate of African Americans in Illinois, in 1977, she co-founded Minority Legal Education Resources, Inc. (MLER) along with Professor Ronald Kennedy, Northwestern University Law School, an organization that has for more than 25 years taught at least 2,000 minority and other lawyers how to pass the Illinois bar. Judge Williams continues to lecture twice a year at each MLER session.

In 2002, she was elected to the Board of Equal Justice Works (formerly the National Association for Public Interest Law) which funds post-graduate fellowships for public interest agencies and organizations and provides debt forgiveness to fellows. The program was created in 1991 as the result of an order she entered in in In Re Folding Carton, 1991 WL 32867 (N.D. Ill. 1991) giving 2.3 million dollars to fund bright, young lawyers to assist minority and under-represented individuals and communities. The two-year fellowship program has been extremely successful and this year 100 fellows have been placed in under-represented and disadvantaged communities.

Notably, in 1993, Judge Williams founded, along with other judges, lawyers and citizens, the Just The Beginning Foundation (JTBF), an organization dedicated to celebrating the contributions, preserving the history and educating the public about the accomplishments of African American federal judges since the appointment of Judge James Benton Parsons. What began as a retirement dinner soon grew into an event of national significance.
As Judge Williams explains:
"For the first time in history, the nation's African-American judges gathered to celebrate and share the history and accomplishments of African-American members of the federal judiciary. It was a momentous occasion, and I feel honored to have played a role in that endeavor. Since that even, the Just the Beginning Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation, was established to educate the public about the African-American judiciary, to award law students scholarships in the names of outstanding African-American jurists, and to serve as a center for collecting and preserving historical data on African-Americans in the federal judiciary."


JTBF's activities include its JTBF in the Schools Project, a program designed to help underprivileged high school students understand the legal system and to encourage the pursuit of law-related careers. The CD ROM and lesson plan JTBF developed are currently used in the Chicago Public Schools' Law and Public Safety Academy, and the program is in the process of being exported to other cities. As part of the Project, Judge Williams and other JTBF judges also mentor high school students from the Academy who serve as in-chambers externs during the school year.

JTBF also publishes "Know Your Rights" newsletters on topics including housing, employment, civics, and criminal law which it distributes to the community in partnership with local churches and on its website. In addition, it has sponsored two multi-month exhibits in partnership with the Chicago Public Library, "From Slavery to the Supreme Court"(1995) and "Brown v. Board of Education: Looking Back and Moving Forward" (2004); published "A Celebration of the Integration of the Federal Courts" and "From Slavery to the Supreme Court: An African-American Journey Through the Federal Courts"; and designed a poster celebrating African Americans in the judiciary. JTBF also continues to award scholarships to law students.

In 1997, Judge Williams founded the JTBF Law School Consortium (formerly known as the MLER Law School Consortium) with other judges, lawyers and bar groups to assist minority law students in Chicago area law schools in achieving greater academic success and in career planning. The Consortium holds semi-annual seminars in local area schools to help minority student achieve these goals. Prominent lawyers and judges from the Chicago area participate in these seminars which focus on law school years and career planning.

JTBF has also co-sponsored with other major bar associations six national conferences attended by hundreds of judges and thousands of law students and members of the community. As she has for each of the six conferences (in Chicago (twice), Detroit, San Francisco, Houston, and Philadelphia), Judge Williams served as Co-Chair of the 2004 conference, "Inspired by the Past: Inspiring the Future." Public sessions at this conference featured speakers including Judge Robert L. Carter, lead counsel in Brown v. Board Education; John Marshall, son of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall; Judge Griffin B. Bell, former Attorney General; Brown attorneys Judge Louis Pollak, Jr. and William T. Coleman, Jr.; Elaine Jones, former President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Professors Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. of Harvard University; Judge Nathaniel Jones, co-chair of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and former judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; and Judge Damon Keith of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, whose "Marching Toward Justice" exhibit opened at the National Constitution Center as part of the conference. Judge Williams continues to serve as President of the JTBF Board of Directors, a role she has held since the organization's inception.

In December 2000, Williams was the first African American woman to receive the Chicago Lawyer's 2000 Person of the Year award for her extraordinary contributions to the law and the legal community. In 2005, she received the Arabella Babb Mansfield Award from the National Association of Women Lawyers, the organization's highest honor. In 2004, both Crain's magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times named her as one of Chicago's 100 Most Influential and Powerful Women. Later this year, the National Association of Women Lawyers is honoring her with its Arabella Babb Mansfield Award. Judge Williams has received Honorary Degrees from the Universities of Notre Dame and Portland, Chicago-Kent and William Mitchell Colleges of Law, and Colby and Lake Forest Colleges, as well as numerous awards from other universities and legal organizations. Other recent awards include the William H. Hastie Award from the National Bar Association; the Chicago Bar Association Vanguard Award; the Chicago Bar Association Earl Burrus Dickerson Award; the Illinois Judicial Council Special Achievement Award; the Woman with Vision Award from the Women's Bar Association of Illinois; the Women Making History Award from the National Council of Negro Women; and the National Black Law Students Association Alumni Award. In addition to her memberships in various bar groups, including the Chicago, Women's, Cook County, Black Women Lawyers, Federal, and American Bar Associations, she also serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Notre Dame as Secretary and formerly served on the Board of Managers of the Chicago Bar Association and the Board of Directors of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.


Judge Williams was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She is the oldest of three daughters born to Dorothy and Joshua Williams. Her parents, both college graduates, were the inspiration for her success. Both stressed the importance of getting an education, setting high goals and having an unyielding belief in one's abilities to triumph over adversity. Indeed, Judge Williams's parents were living examples of this philosophy when they both persevered despite being initially unable to find work in their chosen fields in the 1940s.

Williams began her career as a music and third grade teacher in the inner city public schools of Detroit, Michigan, after graduating with a Bachelor's Degree from Wayne State University in Elementary Education and a Master's Degree in Guidance and Counseling from the University of Michigan while working full time. She received her Juris Doctor from the University of Notre Dame.

Williams's legal career began as a law clerk with Judge Robert A. Sprecher of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Chicago for nine years, trying major felony cases and appearing before the Seventh Circuit. She was promoted to deputy chief of the criminal receiving and appellate division and ultimately became first Chief of the Organized Drug Enforcement Task Force, responsible for organizing federal investigation and prosecution activities for a five-state region.





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