Judge Betty Fletcher, Liberal 9th Circuit Appeals Judge, Dies At 89

Judge Betty Binns Fletcher, a die hard liberal judge who served on the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, died today at her home in Seattle, according to a court spokesman.

Court Spokesman David Madden said that Fletcher passed away Monday evening, and the cause of death is as of yet unknown.

Fletcher was appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Her long and distinguished career included ruling upholding affirmative action, liberalizing cases involving workplace discrimination, overturning the death penalty, and enforcing environmental regulations.

Fletcher was one of the first women in America to make partner in a major law firm and was only the second woman appointed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Speaking of Fletcher, Seattle US District Judge Robert Lasnik said:

“She had experienced discrimination herself in her life, and her perspective included looking out for the downtrodden, the little person — but always within the framework of the law.”

Fletcher has long been of ill health, yet she continued to hear cases right up until the end.

Judge William A. Fletcher, himself a 9th Circuit Judge and Betty Fletcher’s son, said that her rulings were increasingly being reversed by a Supreme Court that leans more and more to the right. He called her record her “distinguished record of reversals.”

Judge William Fletcher wrote:

“Mom has tried not only to do justice in the case before her, but also to shape the law to do justice in the cases that will come after,”

She was also known for getting back at Republicans in the US Senate who held up her son’s appointment to the 9th Circuit in the 1990s.

In 1996, Republican Utah Senator Orrin Hatch insisted that Fletcher retire or take a semi-retired status due in order for her son to be appointed to the court. He cited an ancient anti-nepotism law, but, in reality, he wanted to free up a spot for a Republican nominee. Fletcher agreed to the status and then still continued to maintain a full caseload.

Seattle US Attorney Jenny Durkan said of Fletcher:

“Throughout her life people underestimated her. The thought that taking senior status would mute her voice or her ideas was a huge miscalculation. When I was growing up there were not very many women lawyers in the community. She was one of the first and most accomplished, and a real inspiration for me.”

Fletcher was born in 1923 in Tacoma, Washington. Her father was a prominent lawyer. Fletcher used to spend as much time in his office as she could and used to ditch school so she could watch his trials. During World War II, many men left the country to fight and universities began allowing women to attend the Law School to give the professors something to do. Fletcher attended the University of Washington’s Law School and immediately found out that, even though she had a degree, women were not being hired at any firms.

Fletcher wrote of the experience:

“Prejudice came down on me like a ton of bricks because … the professor who was supposed to get interviews for graduating students never got one for me. So I pounded the pavement with my resume and would just go in cold and say I wanted to see the hiring partner. The receptionist always thought some secretary was getting sacked, so I would get in and get the interview.”

She was hired at the Seattle firm Preston, Thorgrimson and Horowitz, which eventually became K & L Gates.

Fletcher’s husband of 69 years, University of Washington law professor Robert Fletcher, died late last year. The couple left behind four children.