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   Date: 3/24/10 Bookmark and Share

Constance Baker Motley, pioneering civil rights lawyer, federal judge

Constance Baker Motley was born in New Haven, Conn,, in 1921. After earning her bachelorís degree in economics from New York University in 1943, she entered Columbia Law School and took a job in 1945 as law clerk to Thurgood Marshall, chief counsel of the NAACPís Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDEF). She completed her law degree the following year.

Motley continued working for the LDEF until 1965, becoming assistant counsel in 1950 and associate counsel in 1961. As such, she was involved in virtually every important civil rights case of the era, personally directing many of them, including James Meredithís 1962 fight for admission to the University of Mississippi.

From 1958 to 1964, Motley served as a member of the New York State Advisory Council on Employment and Unemployment Insurance. In 1964, she won a special election to the New York State Senate, becoming the first African-American woman to serve in that body. She was elected by the City Council as President of the Borough of Manhattan in 1965. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson appointed her to the federal district court for the Southern District of New York.

In 1982, Motley was appointed chief judge of the Southern District Court and held Senior Justice status from 1986 until her death in 2005.

 

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